Archive for Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tax on junk food may not result in improved health

August 25, 2009


As a registered dietitian and avid exerciser, Kellie Glass understands better than most people the importance of healthy eating. So when she treats herself to ice cream, the last thing she wants is to be confronted by a “sin” tax.

“This is the most ridiculous idea I’ve heard,” Glass said of the mounting proposals to tax junk foods in an effort to slim down America. “Folks are just not going to give up all the foods they love, even if they are more expensive.”

Sin taxes on cigarettes have turned out to be the most effective weapon in the campaign to reduce smoking. Liquor, gambling and even gas-guzzling vehicles also are subjected to punitive assessments.

Why not Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, vanilla Coke and Twinkies?

With increasing vigor, public health experts and think tanks are calling for extra taxes on foods and drinks that are heavy in calories and light on nutrition. New York Gov. David Paterson proposed an 18 percent soda tax last year as part of a budget-balancing package, and lawmakers in other states have floated the idea behind closed doors.

Fat taxes are often mentioned as a way to help fund a restructuring of the health care system, although no one in Congress has yet endorsed them.

A report this summer from the Urban Institute said such taxes are needed to ensure that rising obesity rates don’t cause the average American life expectancy to fall for the first time in history.

“We are killing 100,000 people per year, so something needs to get done,” said Arthur Garson, a pediatric cardiologist at the University of Virginia, and one of the study’s authors. “This is not an off-the-wall set of ideas. These are ideas that have been tested and have worked in cigarettes.”

Tax gaining popularity

Although many citizens rail against the prospect of a paternalistic “nanny state” raising taxes on anything, the notion of a junk food tax is catching on with the general public. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll last month found that 55 percent of respondents favored a tax on unhealthy snack foods, up from 52 percent in April. Support for a soda tax rose to 53 percent from 46 percent.

And 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.

The logic of a junk food tax seems clear. Fattening foods tend to be cheap, while fresh fruits and vegetables and lean cuts of meat are often the most expensive. A tax could help offset that imbalance, nudging people to eat more of what they should and less of what they shouldn’t.

But research by epidemiologists, economists and other scientists suggests it’s hardly that simple.

To make a significant dent in escalating rates of obesity, taxes would have to be steep and widespread. Two-thirds of states now impose a modest soft-drink tax — the average rate is 5.2 percent — and although these tariffs statistically are linked to decreased body weight, the drop is extremely slight: about 3 ounces for a 5-foot, 10-inch person weighing 279 pounds.

Taxes on foods such as candy bars and microwave popcorn are even less effective, according to available data.

There’s even evidence that such taxes can have the perverse effect of increasing consumption of fatty or salty foods.

Cigarettes vs. junk food

There are reasons why taxes curb smoking but wouldn’t affect obesity.

Raise the cigarette tax and a smoker has two choices: Pay up or quit. Raise the tax on sugar-sweetened colas, however, and customers can switch to sports drinks or punch, which often contain even more calories.

Moreover, tobacco taxes apply to all products you can (legally) smoke. Junk food taxes are less logical. A 5.5 percent snack tax in Maine, for instance, covered blueberry muffins and fresh-baked apple pies, but not English muffins or frozen pies.

Tobacco taxes also are much higher than anything likely to be adopted for food and beverages. Slapping a 10 percent sin tax on a $1.50-bottle of Coke would raise the price a mere 15 cents, too little to persuade most shoppers to drink Diet Coke instead, experts said. Many calorie-laden foods are simply too inexpensive to be priced out of the market by any but the most draconian of taxes.

Taxes on snack foods are even less effective.

A team from the U.S. Department of Agriculture contemplated a tax on salty foods such as cheese puffs and pretzels. But unless the tax topped 10 percent, it would translate into much less than one pound of weight loss per year, the researchers reported in 2004.


avoice 8 years, 9 months ago

How about, at the same time, lowering the prices of whole foods, especially produce? And make these healthy items more accessible to urban areas. Junk food is always easier to get and cheaper than the more healthful choices. What is wrong with this picture?

storm 8 years, 9 months ago

Raise the cigarette tax and a smoker has two choices: Pay up or quit. Raise the tax on sugar-sweetened colas, however, and customers can switch to sports drinks or punch, which often contain even more calories.

Gawd, who writes this stuff? WATER is another choice.

Jcjayhawk1 8 years, 9 months ago

"Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both women and men in the United States.' -CDC

jafs 8 years, 9 months ago


The point was that they can buy sports drinks, etc. without paying the tax, and thus will be less likely to eat/drink healthier foods.

Jcjayhawk1 8 years, 9 months ago

We should hold parents responsible that let their children slip into obesity. It's child abuse.....really. Neglect. It's a childcare issue. Now, some children have medical issues not related to dietary habits so those of course are an exception.

mr_right_wing 8 years, 9 months ago

Hey, yet another tax! What a great idea! This country was originally founded because of over-bearing taxation like this; but we don't care, (unlike our forefathers) we'll put up with it. How about a tax on all blogs? I can't figure out why Al Gore hasn't pushed for a tax on us breathing; after all, we humans put out tons of c02 each day! I'll leave human methane alone at this point.

Jcjayhawk1 8 years, 9 months ago

This tax would be justified because the health of others affects my insurance premium. It's the #1 cause of death in the US. Their decisions effects my life and encroaches on my ability to have affordable health care.

classclown 8 years, 9 months ago

Maybe Obama can start a Cash for Chunkers program. People can turn in their Cheetos and candy and whatnot and get a rebate to buy healthier foods.

costello 8 years, 9 months ago

The problem I have with this is the notion that the government really knows what constitutes a healthy diet. The examples given in the article - soda pop, Cheetos, Twinkies - are clearly not good for you. I doubt if any dietician or doctor would argue that they're healthy. But despite the information we receive in the popular press and from public health officials, there still exists a real controversary about what exactly is the healthiest diet.

I fear the next step would be to tax high fat foods like fatty meats, butter, and cream. I consume a lot of these and have found my health has improved.

I was a vegan for 4 years, eating tons of veggies, fruits, whole grains, legumes, tofu, brown rice, etc. Heart healthy, right? Well, during that time I gained 50 pounds, my blood pressure rose to 155/98, I became prediabetic and was diagnosed with fatty liver.

I went on a low carb, Atkins-like diet and lost 45 pounds in around 7 months. My blood lipids improved. I'm no longer prediabetic. I no longer have a fatty liver. And at my checkup last month my blood pressure was 118/80.

Those improvements are purely from diet. No exercise, no medications.

The government's advisors, though, would no doubt find my high-fat - especially high saturated fat - diet appalling. They would no doubt force me back to a diet more similar to the one that was wrecking my health before.

I don't trust the government to choose my diet for me. I don't want them taxing the foods they think I shouldn't eat. I don't want them subsidizing the foods they think I should eat.

Check out the movie Fat Head. Or just have a look at some of his clips on youtube:

Jcjayhawk1 8 years, 9 months ago

Good point Costello. How to regulate? Who decides what etc. So where do we go from here? Food is different from cigarettes & alcohol and the taxation would be a major issue. How about holding parents responsible for child obesity? How can we reduce the affect that unhealthy people have on my group coverage plan?

classclown 8 years, 9 months ago

Just have everyone attend an official weigh in once or twice a year and impose a tax on people for every pound above their "ideal" weight.

classclown 8 years, 9 months ago

The taxes collected from the overweight people can be used to fund the Cash for Chunkers program.

costello 8 years, 9 months ago

"How about holding parents responsible for child obesity?"

I've heard people recommend this before, and I'm not sure exactly how one would do that. I don't agree that parents of obese children are necessarily neglectful or abusive. And frankly removing children from their parents is more damaging than obesity.

I have a son adopted from foster care. Yes, he was damaged by his early life, but the years spent in foster care - moving from home to home and community to community without a caring parent to advocate for him - were also extremely damaging. For that reason, I'm very cautious about supporting any idea of labeling obese children as "neglected" or "abused" and getting the state involved.

Another option would be education, but I think most people are aware that Coke and Doritos aren't healthy. And I've already said what I think about the standard advice preached by the government.

"How can we reduce the affect that unhealthy people have on my group coverage plan?"

Wish I knew. But I do think you should keep in mind that there are lots of unhealthy slim people too. And people engage in all kinds of unhealthy behaviors beside poor diet or smoking. Shall we cut out those who drive while talking on their cell phones? Live in dangerous neighborhoods? Bike without helmets? Don't use their seatbelts?

costello 8 years, 9 months ago

"Democrats will do and say anything to get rebublicans money. They are so progressive and creative with their techniques of demanding money."

So is it only "rebublicans" who eat junk food? ;-)

BigDog 8 years, 9 months ago

I won't disagree that many should eat better and exercise more ..... but where do you stop with the taxes on this stuff in the name of health care?

Do you tax those who don't exercise enough times a week? Should we also dictate what forms of exercise are acceptable?

Do you tax those who participate in activities or professions with more risk of injuries? Lots of bicycle, sports and skateboarding injuries by kids. Construction and manufacturing workers along with farm workers have a high rate of injuries that cost the health care system money. High income tax or premium rates for these individuals.

Then of course you have those who participate in riskier behaviors like drinking, sexual behavior, driving while eating, talking on cellphone, texting, reading, etc.

Between all of these we might even be able to make a dent in the additional $2 trillion deficit

blessed3x 8 years, 9 months ago

Unbelievable. When will the government's intrusion into our lives stop? This administration just gets more ridiculous every day.

somedude20 8 years, 9 months ago

Fair is fair as smokes and booze are taxed like nothing else so should "junk" food. Fat people could be useful during the zombie apocalypse as they would be slow moving and hours of food for the zombs!!

BigDog 8 years, 9 months ago

Maybe this can be discussed at the 500 or so health care reform "grassroots" rallies that the DNC is planning. I guess these won't be staged or anyone coming in on a bus.

Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 9 months ago

Just who is it that decides what the ideal weight for anyone is? For ten weeks now I have been eating three small meals a day and nothing between, no snack foods of any kind. Drink water and soy milk. I decided this on my own, with a little help from my daughter, and It is working as I have had to buy new pants because my others were just too big. I have noticed that my food budget is going a lot further. But, I live by myself and that makes it easier. For the same price as a carton of Blue Bunny ice cream, I got a pint of blueberries, a few bananas, and a few peaches. At Walmart of course.

kristyj 8 years, 9 months ago

classclown- hilarious. i laughed so hard i almost sent my lunch flying across the keyboard (lunch being brown rice w/ zucchini & chicken, so I wouldn't get any fed $ for it, dang).

Maybe airline ticket prices should be direclty related to one's weight

kmat 8 years, 9 months ago

Costello - when you decide to eat vegan, you have to closely watch what you are eating. Most people that go vegan end up eating too many carbs and then end up with the problems you listed. A high protein, low carb, low fat diet won't cause the issues you listed.

We need to educate this country on how to eat. Most people eat at the wrong times during the day, eat out of boredom and eat total junk. Fats and deep frying are what's killing us, not necessarily the sugars.

costello 8 years, 9 months ago

Hi, kmat. In my experience, fats are very satisfying and stay with you longer, so you're less hungry. Sugar will drive your hunger, because it raises your insulin levels. (Or at least it does mine.)

I doubt the notion that we eat out of boredom or stress. I realize this is the conventional idea, but I believe most of us eat because we're hungry. Sugar and highly refined carbs raise insulin levels in those of us who are more sensitive to them. Over time this leads to insulin resistance and weight gain - then eventually to obesity and heart disease.

Gary Taubes' Good Calories, Bad Calories does an excellent job of explaining this, as well as the ways bad science and politics have driven our current state of knowledge (or more accurately ignorance) on nutrition.

Jcjayhawk1 8 years, 9 months ago

Dietairy education has not worked. What now? Allowing your child 10 years old that weighs 150 lbs and is only 4' tall is neglect. In my opinion the parent has a responsibility to control the child's diet and teach them. Your child's health is priority #1. Allowing your child to slip into diabetes when it could have been prevented is abuse especially when it is so preventable or correctable.

kmat 8 years, 9 months ago

Costello - eating out of boredom is a major problem in this country. Just do a little googling on it.

Regarding fats - they do make you feel full. Good fats from nuts and fish are what your body needs. Bad fats (animal fats) are sat fats. They are just bad bad bad. They don't do much more than make you fat yourself and clog your arteries.

But, protein also makes you feel full and most people don't eat enough protein.

You must learn how many calories your body really needs to function and eat within that range. Too many good fats will also make you fat and unhealthy.

Carbs will spike your blood sugar levels, which will make you have cravings.

"Protein is the most satiating nutrient, says former Harvard University researcher Thomas Halton, Ph.D., who recently co-wrote review of 50 satiety studies in The Journal of the American College of Nutrition. Something about protein tells our bodies to stop eating it after a while. Researchers aren't quite sure of the mechanism but believe that part of protein's advantage may come from its thermic effect, the rate at which calories are consumed simply by the act of digesting food. "The digestion and absorption of protein takes more work than the digestion and absorption of fat and carbohydrates," Halton says. About 25 to 35 percent of protein calories are used as the body converts protein to energy; only five to 15 percent are used when carbohydrates are converted."

costello 8 years, 9 months ago

"Allowing your child to slip into diabetes when it could have been prevented is abuse especially when it is so preventable or correctable."

I know it's frustrating when you see someone parenting in a way that seems to you wrong - and even dangerous. But I really think we need to be careful about what we call "abuse." I've seen so many things labelled as abuse in the last few years, including spanking, homeschooling, and ear piercing. And yet many loving parents do those things.

Assuming this is abuse, what would you suggest we do? Removing the child seems extreme and will do more harm than good.

Should the government hire a team of nutritionists and dieticians to monitor their eating habits? I've already stated what I think of the standard dietary advice handed out by the government. I think it's not correct. I believe that a parent who follows this advice to the letter would be more likely to exacerbate the child's problem than to solve it.

Maybe this is the "down side" of living in a country that gives people the freedom to make their own decisions and live their lives the way they think best - with a minimum of government interference?

kmat 8 years, 9 months ago

I forgot to add these from the CNN article. Very good info. I hope this helps, Costello. We've been told so many things from all the fad nutitionalists (Atkins, etc...) and it's hard to keep it all straight.

"While fat's palatability certainly provides satisfaction, it isn't technically "satiating," according to Dana Gerstein, M.P.H., R.D., specialist at the University of California at Berkeley's Center for Weight and Health. "I think of 'satisfying' as fulfilling a desire," Gerstein says. "Fat fulfills desire but is not satiating. Satiation is a physiological process."

All of this information yields a plate containing a small amount of fat, a lean source of protein, and a variety of fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. "This is pretty much what we know we should be eating anyway, but it also helps with satiety," Rolls says. "It's a new way to encourage people to practice good nutrition."

inspire 8 years, 9 months ago

Costello, I agree with you wholeheartedly. Fats are so much more important that we have been led to believe over the past 2-3 decades. Fats in our diets may keep excess sugar from creating sticky gunk in our bodies plus they are precursors to hormone production. Everything from cancers to erectile dysfunction can be linked to hormone imbalances. I have also taken to eating a full fat, protein rich diet over the past 5 years and I now am so much healthier. In terms of satiety, I have come to believe that fats DO increase satiety and for me, have reduced anxiety. I was always just a little high strung when eating the so called healthy way with low fats, no red meats, etc. I think there might be some primitive basic need being met with full fat dairy and good protein in my diet as my constant head chatter has diminished amazingly. Almost like that constant head chatter wasn't really a 'mental' issue but was my body's way of keeping me moving and thinking in hopes I would stumble upon some fat! :) There are many great books about this topic... The Schwartzbein Principle and Nourishing Tradtions are 2 that come to mind. I think in NOurishing Traditions it is written that if you go to any native tribe anywhere on the planet and find very healthy people who all eat meat and full fat dairy products from their livestock. Interesting stuff!

inspire 8 years, 9 months ago

One more thing... grass fed and grass finished beef/bison are the way to go if one can afford it. The so-called science about red meat likely failed to consider the fact that most cattle are fed the equivalent of fast food and that the conditions in which they are raised and slaughtered are horrific. Surely that impacts the nutritional value of that food!

costello 8 years, 9 months ago

"Costello - eating out of boredom is a major problem in this country. Just do a little googling on it."

Hi, kmat. I do appreciate all the information, but I've done a HUGE amount of research on these issues (nutrition, macronutrients, hunger, obesity, etc.), and I've come to the conclusion that the "fad nutitionalists" have come closer to getting this right than the mainstream. ;-)

Aside from research, I also have my own experience. My health has improved incredibly on this so-called unhealthy diet. I've lost weight. My lifelong problems with insomnia are gone. My mood is better. And, despite the expertise of Dana Gerstein at Berkeley and her semantic hair splitting, I don't feel hungry all the time like I used to. I was always hungry. Not bored - hungry. (I'm sorry if I sound a little irritable, but I detest "experts" who seem to believe they know what I'm experiencing better than I do. I once went to a doctor because my ear hurt terribly. He diagnosed the problem and told me to take an antihistamine. When I asked what I should do about the pain, he said, "This isn't a painful condition." I mean for heaven's sake! It's MY ear. I should know if it hurts or not. Dana Gerstein is like that doctor. I say I'm not hungry. She explains that my desire is fulfilled but I'm not satiated. I don't care what you call it; I only know I'm not hungry.)

You're not going to persuade me to change my views on this, and I know I'm not going to persuade you either. Maybe we're both right. Maybe your diet is best for you, and mine is best for me. This is why I don't agree with the whole tax and subsidize thing to force people to change their diets. The government has - arbitrarily, BTW, there's no research to back them up - decided that a particular diet is the best one. I like my diet. I think my diet is healthier for me. My doctor thinks my diet is healthier for me. I don't want government agencies to force me to eat your way any more than you would want them to force my diet on you.

Jcjayhawk1 8 years, 9 months ago

"Maybe this is the “down side” of living in a country that gives people the freedom to make their own decisions and live their lives the way they think best - with a minimum of government interference?"-Costello

I normally would agree and take the freedom and let others live their lives as they see fit....but when a child is involved and doesn't have the freedom or the guidance to make a decision on their own....someone has to be held accountable.

I understand the importance and difficulty in catagorizing abuse. The lines aren't so clear sometimes between spanking and such but in order to help solve the overall problem these kids must get better and live healthier.

costello 8 years, 9 months ago

Thanks, inspire. It sounds like your experience is similar to mine.

I own both of the books you recommend, as well as a whole library of other books in the low-carb and paleo diet genre.

I wish I could find and afford grass fed and finished beef - for both the reasons you cite.

supernik 8 years, 9 months ago

im thinking they should just make healthy foods more affordable than junk foods - most obese people are among the poorer populations - jmo but then again i'm not the allknowing government. by raising the price of junk food and with healthy food being expensive already - poorer people will just be hungrier and starvation will rise - yeay for the genious' that run our country!

costello 8 years, 9 months ago

"I normally would agree and take the freedom and let others live their lives as they see fit….but when a child is involved and doesn't have the freedom or the guidance to make a decision on their own ..."

I understand your views. This is a subject that's near and dear to my heart, and I've really wrestled with it. I believe that children need adults to raise them, train them, guide them. I don't think that's controversial; most people would agree. So, to my mind, the next question is WHO should raise them. Do we trust parents to raise their own kids? Or do we hand them over to the government?

I agree with the Supreme Court in Troxel: "There is a presumption that fit parents act in their children’s best interests; there is normally no reason for the State to inject itself into the private realm of the family to further question fit parents’ ability to make the best decisions regarding their children."

In my opinion, the fact that a child is obese, or even diabetic, does not - by itself - prove that his or her parents are unfit. There may be some very egregious cases out there which require intervention, but in general I don't think so. I really hope we don't get to the point where we're putting children in state custody because they're fat.

Other than that, I don't see how you're going to hold the parents "accountable." Are you talking about fining them? Putting them under court supervision until their kids lose weight? Requiring them attend nutrition classes? Giving their kids the right to sue them? Requiring them to see a particular doctor and follow his recommendations? What if the kid doesn't lose weight on the prescribed diet? What if s/he doesn't lose weight because of snacking at school or friends' houses?

Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 9 months ago

Boring, boring, boring, decide how many calories you need to eat in a day and then use a little self control and do it. Self indulgence is to blame.

GardenMomma 8 years, 9 months ago

Did anyone stop to remember that the people who are buying this "junk" food because it's cheaper are more likely to be on state food assistance and therefore don't have to pay sales tax if they are buying their food with welfare dollars?

kansasmutt 8 years, 9 months ago

Free smokes are good. I say do away with sin tax,s and let us smokers smoke on.If a person chooses to smoke or eat twinkies, who cares, it isnt your life. You dogooders need to all go to China and live, leave us alone you morons. Keep this in mind non smokers. More non smokers die every day then do smokers, Sleep well. :-)

GardenMomma 8 years, 9 months ago

In your stats there, what's the highest percentage that is obese? The under $25,000 ranking. That's probably got the greatest percentage of people getting state food aid.

My point was that taxing junk food may not result in a whole lot of cash flow as some might expect. And FYI, I did a little research. I cite:

"While the Food Stamp program has little positive effect on food quality, considerable evidence indicates that the program has the counter-productive effect of increasing obesity. For example, a recent study funded by USDA found that low-income women who participate in the Food Stamp program are substantially more likely to be obese than women in households with the same non-food stamp income who did not receive food stamps. " Source:November 13, 2007 Hunger Hysteria: Examining Food Security and Obesity in America by Robert Rector Source:Charles Baum, "The Effects of Food Stamps on Obesity," U.S. Department of Agriculture, Contractor and Cooperator Report No. 34, September 2007.

headdoctor 8 years, 9 months ago

Wow. Just where on this subject does one begin? Obesity is as complex of an issue as the state of our health care. Some of you are clumping all obesity into one category and others are sounding like many reformed smokers do going after those that still smoke. Tax is tax. It isn't about cutting down on anything including Government spending. More tax will not cut other taxes. The politicians will just find somewhere else to spend the money just like they did for the Tobacco Settlements, the lottery, etc. I do not believe that increased taxes has reduced drinking. It may have played a part in some reduced numbers of smokers but not the degree that those on the tax band wagon would like to promote. I find it funny that some think junk food should be taxed into oblivion yet if it was a tax proposed on something they like they would be upset. If anything this is a way to produce more taxes to replace what they are now losing from reduced tobacco sales.

Personally I believe a lot could be accomplished against obesity by removing high fructose corn syrup and Aspartame from our food sources. High fructose corn syrup was known to cause diabetes in every lab animal tested and good luck finding that study report online. Both products work in the body exactly opposite of what you would think they would. These two products especially mixed in certain foods cause a lot of trouble especially for those who are already prone to metabolic problems.

There are many reasons we are an obese nation and not just from lack of exercise or lack of self discipline.

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