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A Solution To Obesity? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jeff Novick, M.S., R.D.   
Tuesday, 01 April 2008 09:47

This is not an April Fool's Joke!  :) 

Everyone is looking for the solution to obesity.  While there are many opinions on how best to address this epidemic, perhaps we can find the answer by looking at other health issues that have been and are being successfully addressed.

Nicotine and Alcohol.

Recently, USA Today conducted its own analysis of taxation and smoking figures and concluded that the decline in smoing is directly related to the size of the tax increase.  This may be extra good news because Congress is considering a huge federal cigarette tax hike.  

According to a Congressional Budget Office estimate, smoking fell 2.5-5.0% for every 10% increase in cigarette price. Some specific examples were cited.   Cigarette sales fell 18% in North Carolinaafter state tax was raised from .05 to .35.   In Connecticut, cigarette sales fell 37% when state taxes were increased from .50 to $1.51.  Same results happened earlier in California.  In 1988, Califormia Proposition 99 increased the state tax by 25 cents per cigarette pack and allocated a minimum of 20% of revenue to fund anti-tobacco education. From 1988 to 1993, the state saw tobacco use decline by 27%, three times better than the U.S. average.

It has also worked for alcohol.  Five studies published between 1981 and 1998 found that drinking declined as the price of alcohol increased.  Maybe Congress should also consider a huge tax hike for unhealthy foods that are high in calories, unhealthy fats, refined/concentrated sugars and sodium.  

Now, I am not a big fan of government interfering in our lives, but if humans can't figure out how to stop killing themselves prematurely through food, at an incredible expense to all of us, then maybe we should intervene.

A "fat tax" or "junk food" tax is not a new idea. The concept was first introduced by Milton Merryweather and P. Franklin Alexander in the late seventies, but pioneered and brought to prominence in the early 1980s by Kelly D. Brownell, Ph.D., director of The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale.  Brownell proposed that revenue from junk-food taxes be used to subsidize more healthful foods and fund nutrition campaigns. Kelly is a professor of Psychology and Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health, and the Director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale.

It is estimated that a national tax of 1 cent per 12-ounce soft drink would generate $1.5 billion annually, and a national tax of 1 cent per pound of candy, chips and other snack foods would generate revenues of up to $314 million.

Even the World Health Organizatiion has chimed in.   In December 2003, The WHO proposed that nations consider taxing junk foods to encourage people to make healthier food choices. According to the WHO report, "Several countries use fiscal measures to promote availability of and access to certain foods; others use taxes to increase or decrease consumption of food; and some use public funds and subsidies to promote access among poor communities to recreational and sporting facilities." 

In a 2007 study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, researchers at Oxford University used a mathematical formula to estimate the effect of higher prices on the demand for foods such as pastries, cakes, cheese and butter.  They concluded that charging a Value Added Tax (VAT) at 17.5 percent on foods deemed to be unhealthy would cut consumer demand and reduce the number of heart attacks and strokes. 

"A well-designed and carefully-targeted fat tax could be a useful tool for reducing the burden of food-related disease," the study concluded.



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