Today I decided to scratch my own itch and understand what a ‘fat tax’ really is and whether it’s a good idea. After doing a bit of research, I settled on Wikipedia (I see you judging) for a good definition:
Fat tax: a tax placed on fattening food, beverages or on overweight individuals. The main aim is to discourage unhealthy diets and offset the economic costs of obesity.
This means that your beloved Cadbury bars, Sensation chilli crisps and M&S cakes will all be extra pricey, discouraging you to eat them. The concept is pretty simple, and our thoughtful PM at the time raised the idea in 2011; it was never done.
Before debating the topic, let’s get some facts straight:
Obesity has recently been classified as a disease by both the US and Canadian government.
- Time lost at work due to obesity issues
- All the material needed to care for obese people (larger beds, bigger ambulances, etc)
- Insurance: employers have to get higher insurance for obese
- Lower wages: obese have on average lower wages than normal weight individuals.
- And more…
So would introducing a fat tax be helpful? Let’s see.
(A reminder that this is different to the smoking issue because smoking is directly related to lung diseases, so governments can put a high tax on them which will offset the costs of the health problem they produce.)
- It would make people pay the social cost of unhealthy food. The £47 billion a year would mostly be paid by taxes imposed on all the unhealthy food.
- It would encourage a healthier diet? Encouraging people to choose healthier food and encourage producers to supply food lower in fat and sugar.
- Could be used to offset other taxes. Increase the tax on fatty food and decrease the basic rate of VAT, so that in the end there is no overall increase in tax.
- It’s difficult to know which food deserves a fat tax
- Obesity isn’t just about over-consumption
- Why should everyone who wants a Big Mag or a box of Smarties be forced to pay more, irrespective of the healthiness of their diet?
- Buying healthy food might not be a solution for people living on a low-income: they eat unhealthy take away food because maybe they don’t have the time to cook after a long day working, they don’t have the facilities nor the skills.
So as you can see the fat tax terrain is quite divided. What should the government do? On one hand, the taxes help with the huge financial burden of obesity, but on the other hand they probably won’t solve the problem.
A possible solution:
The important part to solve obesity is to make sure people change their mentality towards food. Simply forcing them to lose weight like in The Biggest Loser won’t solve the problem; they’ll simply regain the weight. And as we said before, food is not the only cause of obesity; it’s the modern life we live in: long hours sitting down, high stress levels, huge portions, the emphasis on eating for pleasure instead of fueling your body, and many more other reasons. If an obese person wants to lose weight, they need to completely change their lifestyle.
We can all agree it’s easier to never get obese in the first place, rather than have to keep the weight off. So we have to start out at the roots: children and young adults
Introducing compulsory health and cooking skills at school. This forces children to understand the effects of eating fatty foods and the negative impact it has on their health, combined with regular exercise (PE). Basic cooking skills will teach children in lower-income areas to cook healthy meals in order to resist the temptation of take away and fast food.
From there, the public has a basic knowledge of what consists of a healthy diet and the government can work on health programs and maybe even health rehabs?
James S Fell has a great article titled ‘What is the solution to obesity‘ on ways the government can introduce laws and restrictions to resolve obesity, from restricting food advertising to children to greater access to bariatric surgery. Great article if you’re interested in learning more.
So are fat taxes or a good or a bad idea? Along with better education and other government intervention, they could help raise awareness and force people to think twice before buying a pack of Cheerios. Maybe they should test it in one area of the country and see if it works? Who knows?
What about you? What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
OH and guess what… Scotland is the most overweight country in Europe… (it’s gotta be the IrnBru and deep fried mars bars)