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Your view: A 'fat tax' on junk food?

It's no big deal. We'll still eat junk food but maybe we'll cut back a bit.

By Karen Datko Nov 3, 2009 9:02PM

This post comes from Paul Michael at partner blog Wise Bread.

 

Should there be a "fat tax" on junk food?

 

Yes.

 

Well, that's just my humble opinion, but I really don't see why this has so many people throwing their arms up in the air with shock. We tax liquor and cigarettes, neither of which are essentials in life. Why not tax something that is bad for our health, preventing more people from buying it and generating much-needed tax revenue in the process?

Taxes on beer, spirits and cigarettes vary from state to state (there's a detailed list here) but one thing's for sure: When you grab a shot of your favorite tipple, you're giving money to Uncle Sam. Like most things in life, liquor should be taken in moderation. It's a treat. And, as such, we can stomach a little extra money being handed over for our shot of bourbon or pint of ale. (Cigarettes, well, they're a whole different animal, and if it weren't for the enormous amount of money they generate they would have been banned years ago. Such is the power of the mighty dollar.)

 

Similarly, fast food is (or should be) a rare treat, too. Probably more rare than a glass of wine or cold bottle of Bud. If you recall "Super Size Me," nutritionists interviewed by Morgan Spurlock said you should eat junk food only once a month, if at all. That doesn't stop most Americans from gorging on fast food like rats in a New York Dumpster.

 

Just look at a few statistics. In the U.S., 64.5% of adults are overweight and 30.5% are obese.

Over half of the population eats fast food once a week with 20% eating fast food at least every other day. And high frequency users are more likely to increase fast food consumption because of economic pressure and are attracted to "value" dining options. (See these and more distasteful facts here).

It's right there in black and white. The "value" menus are making junk food way too attractive of an option. But what if, as of 2010, every Big Mac, Whopper and "Triple-Bacon Heart Attack Burger" sold in the U.S. had a $2 fat tax? The money generated would be enormous. We're talking billions and billions of dollars. Even with the decreased consumption due to increased cost, most people would still choose to eat junk food. Maybe not as much, but there are times when the smell of grilled cheese and ground chuck are just irresistible. Now, put that fat tax on other junk foods and see the money pile up even more quickly.

 

People will always want that forbidden treat, and they'll happily pay for it. I don't see anyone complaining about the high price of Belgian chocolate or handmade English toffee. They're not necessary for survival. They exist only to give people pleasure. And as such, like so many other pleasures in life that are bad for us, we're willing to pay more for them. I know I'd fork over $8 for my junk food of choice, a Chipotle burrito. Right now it's less than $6, but what's $2 more for that one pound of delicious spicy goodness (or badness)?

 

Let the government tax our fatty treats, and let them use that money to pay off some of the debt, or create new jobs, or rebuild the crumbling bridges and infrastructure.

 

Here's another idea. What if we use the money generated by fast-food purchases to subsidize the prices of healthy food, like fruits, vegetables and fresh fish? Right now, fast food is generally cheaper than a healthy meal, and much easier to come by. There are fast-food restaurants everywhere, but the healthy, cheap options are much more scarce. By channeling the money from junk food to good food, we are not preventing anyone from eating a burger; we're just making it way more easy to buy a similarly priced healthy alternative.

 

I say the time is right for a fat tax. I know many of you will disagree with me, and that's just one more thing that makes this country great. We can eat our fatty junk foods, we can slurp our sugary sodas, and we can have a good old debate about it all. Now, what's for dessert?

 

Related reading from Paul Michael and Wise Bread:

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