25 January 2006

On using the "fat tax" to change behavior

This week's Grand Rounds hosted by Kevin MD included a thought-provoking article, "Marketing, Obesity, and the Fat Tax" at Diabetes Mine. Kevin MD, in refencing it, said "I'm all for it", 'it' being a proposed tax on fattening, unhealthy, or non-nutrient-dense foods. Amy, the host of Diabetes Mine, in turn said:

On this note, I have to say that I think the proposed Fat Tax (aka "Twinkie Tax") is a great idea. Slap a 7 to 10 percent tax increase on high-fat, high-calorie, low-nutrient foods

The Diabetes Mine commenters were likewise supportive:

  • I agree with you that the so called "fat tax" is a good idea.
  • I have to agree, they should take that so called "fat-tax" and make the healthier foods more damn affordable.
  • IMHO the money from the fat-tax (if it is ever implemented) should go to programs that will educate people about healthy eating.
  • I really like the idea of a "fat" tax, diabetes tax, whatever you wanna call it.
I have to be honest, I personally am not in favor of such a tax, and think that this line of reasoning is defective. So I figured, it's time for a little research. The question "should there be a fat tax?" actually boils down to 4 separate questions here:

1. Has taxation been ever shown to reduce consumption of any other unhealthy consumables?
2. Are those other unhealthy consumables comparable to "junk food" in significant ways?
3. If implemented, will the tax have the effect intended?
4. Should, as a matter of public policy, a tax therefore be implemented?