Junk-food tax: beneficial, or big brother?


Taxes seem like a common-enough obligation that all of us have to deal with.  But tax on junk food?

This relatively-new idea may seem like common sense; after all, the obesity epidemic in our society is nothing new.  Others beg to differ, claiming it is the government going too far.  Who defines what junk food is, anyway, and how much tax does each item come with?

Kelly Bronwell, director of Yale’s Center for Eating and Weight Disorders, has created his own outline.  A tax of one cent for every twelve ounces of soda (the equivalent of a can), he claims, could bring in $1.5 billion each year.  Oil, chips, candy, and other unhealthy foods, taxed at their own individual rate, could additionally make over $3.5 billion.

What would all of this money go to?  It would used to fund awareness-raising campaigns, informing members of our society about the possible ramifications of excessive junk-food intake.  Supporters hope that this would encourage them to make healthier choices.  But why, others question, does the government care about our society’s eating habits? 

Obesity, an obvious result of junk food overindulgence, supporters explain, is not cheap.  Nine percent of our national medical bill comes from obesity-related illnesses, or $93 billion.  Companies all over America lose thousands of dollars to sick-days taken directly related to these health issues.  Complications that result by failing to address this health concern are numerous.

Of these, the most commonly-known includes anything from stroke to diabetes.  However, there are other consequences, like depression and sleep apnea, that are less known but nonetheless prominent.  Even consequences that are seldom considered severe add up and are charging companies more than they are comfortable spending.

Is taxing really the answer?  There are mixed opinions on this issue.  Those in favor of Bronwell’s proposal commonly point to the success of the alcohol and tobacco taxes that have been in effect recently.  The evidence they use to support their claims is extensive.

According to a study done by Columbia University, the five states with the highest beer taxes have considerably lower rates of binge drinking amongst teenagers those with the lowest taxes.  As far as tobacco is concerned, every ten percent increase in the cost of cigarettes lessens youth smoking about seven percent, and the overall consumption of cigarettes by four percent.

Another frequent argument given by those in favor of the junk-food taxes is that it seems to be the next logical step in our society’s development.  The government has played an active role in the fight against obesity for years now.  It has become mandatory for popular restaurants to display the calorie-count of their menu items, and saturated fat has been removed from various foods.

Regardless of the motives behind these measures, typically birthed from the notion that obesity is a serious health concern, many people do not actively fight against it.  In fact, there are many who indirectly support and encourage it.  This passivity can be displayed in a variety of ways.

Online dating sites, such as www.perscription4love.com and www.bbwdatefinder.com, were created solely for use by overweight singles.  Also, various articles in magazines speak of ways to flatter any figure, including one that is “extremely curvy”, as described in Seventeen.  Rachel Bornetun, an avid reader of Seventeen, displays her shock and surprise when stumbling across this section of the magazine.

“I couldn’t stop staring at the page”, she admits.  “There has always been an unwritten rule against tolerating obesity so openly”.  Others are equally threatened by the prospect of obesity as a serious health threat being ignored or disagreed with.  Jeffery Koplan, former CDC director, shares his opinion: “We need to respond as vigorously to this epidemic as we do to an infectious disease epidemic”.

On the other hand, those in opposition to the junk food tax feel strongly about the issue as well.  They call it a further intrusion of ‘the nanny state’, one in which the government is always keeping a close eye on several issues many would consider to be personal.

“I hate when there are rules created that keep me from doing something I’m perfectly capable of deciding by myself,” says Kerri Lesher, a New York resident in reference to New York’s fairly recent ban on saturated fat in restaurants.

Whether or not you agree with the proposed junk-food tax, there will continue to be heated debates and arguments over the issue in the years to come.

Katie Fransisco

SOURCES: Kelly Bronwell, Jeffrey Kaplan (former CDC director), Santa Monica College, Telegraph, Columbia University, Mayo Clinic