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Could Raising Taxes on Junk Food Curb Obesity?

Junk food and obesity

In recent years we have taxed cigarettes and the research has demonstrated that this tax has been the single most effective policy to reduce tobacco use. Could the latest tax include soda pop, potato chips and candy bars? Is it possible that raising taxes on junk food could curb obesity? Some are saying yes.

With nearly two-thirds of Americans being overweight or obese, some people are proposing a tax increase on the foods that can enlarge our waistline. New York Gov. David Paterson, who believes raising taxes on junk food could curb obesity, proposed an 18% soda tax last year only to abandon it three months later due to public opposition. Since his proposal, 5 other states are considering a tax proposal.

According to the Urban Institute, the group says obesity is the cause of more than 100,000 preventable deaths. They further state that obesity cost the health care system $200 billion annually. They believe that a suggested tax of ten percent on “fattening food of little nutritional value” would raise $530 billion over ten years.

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Raising taxes on junk food to curb obesity is often mentioned as a way to help fund the restructuring of our current health care system, although no one in Congress is ready to endorsed this as of yet. The flip side of taxing junk food is subsidizing healthy foods. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has calculated that cutting prices of fruits and vegetables by 10 percent would increase consumption by 6 percent to 7 percent.

The "Los Angeles Times" reports a Kaiser Family Foundation poll found 55-percent of respondents’ favor of a tax on snack foods. Support for a soda tax won an equally impressive 53-percent. However, 63 percent of people who opposed the idea said they would change their minds if the revenue were used to fund health care reform and combat health problems related to obesity.

There are many who oppose the idea of raising taxes on junk food to curb obesity. Some believe that taxes on unhealthy food would fall primarily on the poor who tend to eat less healthy diets. It is also suggested that it isn’t just the type of food consumed but the quantity that drives obesity. For some, bread is not a junk food but if you eat an entire loaf of bread a day and you are likely to have weight problems.

What is clear is more and more Americans are overweight and officials feel that raising taxes on junk food could curb obesity. Taxing junk food could be effective and for many it is debatable. To make a significant dent in escalating rates of obesity more education and outreach programs could help Americans make healthier choices.

LA Times
Washington Post