Bits and Pieces 12 : Should We Tax Unhealthy Foods?
Would people be more likely to avoid unhealthy foods if they received a tax incentive to do so? A few countries think so, and have enacted laws to increase taxes on fat, sweet and salty foods. The outgoing conservative Danish government has passed a “ fat tax” on foods high in saturated fats. Hungary has also introduced a new tax popularly known as the “Hamburger Law” that involves higher taxes on soft drink, pastries, salty snacks and food flavorings.
Denmark now has a life expectancy much lower than other surrounding countries. “Higher fees on sugar, fat and tobacco is an important step on the way toward a higher average life expectancy in Denmark,” health minister Jakob Axel Nielsen said, because “saturated fats can cause cardiovascular disease and cancer.” The “fat tax” would help curb the country’s obesity problem and estimates are that it will increase the average life expectancy of Danes by three years over the next 10 years.
Denmark’s and Hungary’s efforts to tax unhealthy foods might not be such a bad idea. While it seems that many people will not act to protect their own health, they might be a little more likely to eat healthy foods if they receive a financial incentive to do so. I doubt that the United States would ever have the political will to raise taxes on unhealthy food. We will just wait and pay the health costs. However, perhaps we could do it by lowering taxes.
Since many state legislatures have exhibited a passion for cutting taxes, they could encourage people to live longer and lead healthier lives by removing the sales tax on healthy foods. There are a number of resources such as Harvard’s Nutrition Source that could provide the information that would be necessary to do that. Even without the financial incentive, it would be a good idea for everyone to become familiar with Nutrition Source, or even Dr. Oz’s list of 100 healthy foods.
(c) 2011 J.C. Moore
Research Credit: Barbara Moore
Tags: Denmark's fat tax, Dr. Oz's 100 healthy foods, food tax, Harvard's nutrition source, Hungary's hamburger law, Jakob Nielsen, life expectancy, Obesity, saturated fats, soft drinks, Tobacco, Unhealthy foods