A “fat tax” became an issue in the health care debate in 1993 (under U.s. President Bill Clinton) and 2009 (under U.S. President Barack Obama). A “fat tax” can be a tax directly on obese people, or it can a tax on lifestyles that make people fat (such as a tax on candy or a tax break on joining a health club).
“Fat tax” is cited in print as early as 1852, where it was an item in the London humor magazine Punch. Other early citations of “fat tax” are recorded from 1925 and 1942.
Wikipedia: Fat tax
A fat tax is a tax or surcharge upon fattening food or fat people. Such penalties have been proposed to encourage more healthy eating and to finance the extra burden imposed by fat people in areas such as air travel and health care.
The concept was first introduced by Milton Merryweather and P. Franklin Alexander in the late seventies, but pioneered and brought to prominence in the early 1980s by Kelly D. Brownell, PhD, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale. Brownell proposed that revenue from junk-food taxes be used to subsidize more healthful foods and fund nutrition campaigns.
In a 1994 Op-Ed in the New York Times, Brownell noted that food costs were out of balance, with healthy foods costing more than unhealthy ones. In subsequent years it has become clear that agriculture subsidies contribute to this problem by favoring calorie-dense foods and neglecting fruits and vegetables. Making healthy foods cost less could be a major tool in improving nutrition.
A different type of fat tax, which has been circulated in academic circles and was initially thought of in Albany, New York, is to tax an individual based upon their body fat percentage (BFP). Generally speaking, the higher an individual’s BFP, the higher their tax would be. It has been suggested that the tax could be income adjusted and the revenue could go towards subsidizing lower income families’ food and wellness centers. Additionally, the general lowering of the nation’s weight could assist in lowering energy consumption and assisting in decreasing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. Body mass index (BMI) has also been considered as a tool to determine what tax bracket a “fat” person would be placed into. Because both the BFP and BMI metrics would require constant medical monitoring, it has been suggested that a progressive value added tax on oversize clothing would be would present a simple self-enforcing implementation strategy. Under this model as the size of the clothing, increases the taxes rates would increase according to a predetermined schedule, thus strongly incurring “fat” people to lose weight.
Purposes of the tax
. To decrease consumption of unhealthy foods, or at least function as a disincentive to unhealthy eating
. To generate revenue earmarked for relevant causes: improving diet, increasing physical activity, obesity prevention, nutrition education, etc.
. To be applied in ways that stores can manage and people can understand
. To focus on maximizing health benefits, not monitoring dietary choices per se
Firestorm and Controversy
The New York Times Op-Ed piece that proposed the “fat tax” elicited controversy and outrage nationwide. Author Kelly Brownell became the focal point of this controversy, especially from Rush Limbaugh, who spoke out adamantly against the tax and the general principle of governmental intrusion into food choices and a possible invasion of privacy.
The major arguments against the so-called Twinkie tax are:
. Big Brother argument: Government should not interfere with people’s lives and tell them what to eat and what not to eat
. Could affect poor people disproportionately
. Interfere with personal liberties and freedom of choice
. Additional bureaucracy is undesirable
1852, Punch, or the London Charivari, pg. 249, col. 1:
A fat-tax is one, to incur which would be in a grat measure optional. Its amount would be reduced in proportion to the reduction of obesity, to be effected by moderation, exercise, and early rising, on all which good habits it would set as a premium.
5 March 1925, Massillion (OH) Evening Independent, “Diet and Health” by Lulu Hunt Peters, M.D., pg. 7, col. 4:
SHALL WE TAX THE FAT?
Not long ago, a newspaper stated that Germany considered the question of taxing the overeighters heavily—graded taxes upon all those whose circumferences exceeded a certain maximum. There was also come rumor of France’s raising a tax on stoutage. THe idea was that every taxpayer should be assessed according to his net weight, so many francs per pound overweight.
The newspaper also had an item to the effect that Sweden also was contemplating a fat tax, giving as a reason that fat people eat more and work less than others.
These items were evidently jokes, for I have never seen that they were put in operation.
I think a tax would be a good idea not for the money that would be raised but because it would cause a national study of obesity and then everyone would know that the condition was unnecessary and fraught with danger.
16 February 1942, Syracuse (NY) Herald-American, “Madame! Your Figure” by Ida Jean Kain, pg. 17, col. 4:
The latest idea for revenue is to have a Federal Fat Tax. Dr. Anton J. Carlson, of the University of Chicago, thought this one up. He contends that obesity is injuring the health of our citizens and that the way to check the mational tendency to excess weight is to put a tax on overeating that will be felt where it hurts—right smack in the pocketbook.
Law and Ethics in Health Care
By John B. McKinlay
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press
Although we may someday have a fat tax to combat obesity, it would be surprising indeed to find one that imposed charges only on those whose obesity was due to involuntary factors.
7 March 1993, Arizona Daily Star (Tucson, AZ), “Fat tax: we gain 9and lose)”:
The fat tax. It’s the solution, Mr. President, to a lot of problems. Yours. Mine. The treasury’s. Let’s face it, you could stand to lose a few pounds. So could I. A tax on fat might be just the incentive we need. Slap a $2 tax on a dozen doughnuts and I might pause just long enough for the urge to gorge to pass. And wouldn’t that be good for all Americans in the long run?
29 October 1993, Valley Independent (Monessen, PA), “What we need is a tax on fat” by Dave Boyer, pg. 12B, col. 6:
Mr. President, forget about your wife’s health care plan. Give us a Fat Tax.
24 April 1994, Oelwein (Iowa) Daily Register, “Stress disorders you may not be aware of” by Dean Close, pg. A7, col. 5:
Now Obese Stress DIsorder: This affects men and women who find that they can no longer wear the clothes they wore when they were in high school, college, etc. These unfortunate individuals first suffer the physical discomfort of wearing tight clothes; then they suffer the financial burdens of paying the “fat tax” that is needed to buy new clothes. And finally, they suffer the misery of dieting and all those plans that make you lose sleep but not weight.
30 August 1994, Indiana (PA) Gazette,/i>, “Americans not getting the message about fat’ by Eric Adler (Kansas City Star), pg. 6, cols. 2-3:
If America’s experts on weight gain and obesity were to propose a congressional bill—call it the “Fat Act” or “Weight Reduction Bill” if you will—it might read something like this:
“3. That heavy taxes (’Fat Tax’ be affixed to all junk food, to dissuade use, as is now being proposed for cigarettes.”
21 February 1997, New Mexican (Santa Fe, NM), “America’s Weight Crisis” by Jim Debrosse, pg. C3, col. 4:
Kelly D. Brownell, an obesity researcher and psychologist at Yale University, has urged public policy changes to help right that environment, including a “fat tax” on unhealthy foods. “We tax cigarettes because they kill people. And when we do tax them, their use goes down,” he says. “Why not tax high-fat foods?”
Abolish the Fat Tax!
It’s time to shut up about “the cost of obesity.”
By Daniel Engber
Posted Thursday, Feb. 14, 2008, at 3:21 PM ET
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton may differ (slightly) on health-care policy reform, but at least they agree on how to pay for it. At a December debate in Iowa, Obama announced that “if we went back to the obesity rates that existed in 1980, that would save the Medicare system a trillion dollars.” We might chalk this up as mere Obambast, another of the Senator’s blowy promises. But Clinton mirrors the claim on her own Web site: “Medicare could save over a trillion dollars over 25 years if obesity among seniors could be returned to levels in the 1980s.”
Business In The Beltway
Fat Tax Could Be Panacea For Health Reform
Brian Wingfield, 07.27.09, 06:58 PM EDT
Chances are slim, but it could help offset the cost of ObamaCare.
WASHINGTON—One of the ways President Barack Obama hopes to reduce soaring health care costs is through the promotion of overall wellness. There’s a related idea cooking in Washington: a fat tax.
According to a study released Monday by experts at the Urban Institute and the University of Virginia, a 10% excise or sales tax on fattening foods could raise $522 billion over the next 10 years. A 20% tax could raise $937 billion. Among its other uses (like paying down the deficit), that money could be used to defray the costs of health care reform or to curb the rise in obesity.