Taxing Fat(ties)

There’s been a lot of noise lately about taxing fast food and putting warning labels on fast food.  This comes after the recent Ontario Medical Association report that obesity is going to cost us, the taxpayer, billions over the next several years as our society just seems to be getting fatter and fatter.   So the obvious solution unfortunately for a lot of “thoughtful” people and so-called leaders is to tax fast food.  Statist solutions always come to the fore right away these days.

This ain’t new – the idea of taxing fat or sugar or junk food has been around for awhile and is gaining steam, given some European countries like Denmark experimenting with taxing foods based on their fat or sugar content, or both.  It’s an idea that seems to be gaining momentum though.

Supposedly a fast food tax would do two things: firstly, it would make fast food and junk food more expensive and thus  (it’s hoped) less affordable by “poor” people, who are statistically more likely to be obese or overweight than affluent persons.  Secondly, the tax would raise additional revenues to offset the added cost of providing publicly funded health care to overweight individuals.

It’s all well and good if you accept either premise.  We don’t.

Firstly, the fact that poor people also happen to be many times more likely to be fat (and in poor health generally) is linked, but not in the way the progressives like to admit.  Fast food is not cheaper, on average, than regular wholesome food.    But what it is, is more convenient.  It requires less energy to prepare.  It takes no skill to create something tasty.

If anyone has seen Jamie Oliver’s original Ministry of Food show, where he tries to get underclass people in one city in England to cook healthy food for themselves, you’d come to the conclusion that a lot of these people are just too damn lazy.  They are too lazy to be arsed to cook their own meals, and in some cases they are too lazy to be arsed to learn how to even cook it in the first place. 

A big percentage of poor and lower-income households eat a steady diet of fast food and junk food because they are just plain lazy, no other explanation required.  And it’s probably one of the prime reasons they’re poor in the first place.  And it’s probably also a big reason why they also exercise less, smoke more and all around do less to take care of their own physical health.  Sorry for speaking truth to the matter.  Laziness is the cause of their problems, not a symptom of it.   And even if you make fast and junk food more expensive, it’d be hard to predict with any confidence that you’d be deterring these people from continuing to buy fast food, rather they’ll just be assigning more of their disposable income to stuffing their faces.

Well, then you come to point #2 – the tax revenue generated would cover the additional health care costs for overweight people.  OK, but let’s ask the question then – would it be akin to applying an insurance premium (of sorts) to fat people for their over-use of the health care system, or are we using a bulldozer to kill a fly by also taxing perfectly healthy people who also happen to eat fast food?  We all know that skinny guy who can wolf down three Whoppers and still have a six-pack midsection, and whose cholesterol levels are in perfect order.  Why are we taxing that guy to pay for the health care costs of fatties?

Could it be that what makes us increasingly fat and unhealthy as a society is a function of our increasingly sedentary lifestyles?  Why not put meters on people’s TV’s then, and tax them based on how many hours of TV is being watched in a household?  There is evidence that there is a direct correlation to the amount of TV watched and obesity levels.

So if it’s a complicated mix of both dietary choices and sedentary lifestyle, if it’s a matter of people eating too much and moving too little that is making us fat, then let’s cut right to the chase – let’s just tax fat.  As in, how much fat you are carrying.

Once a year, everyone goes to the doctor and their BMI is measured, and their body fat percentage, and then they are taxed according to how fat they are in comparison to some formula that accounts for sex, age and pre-existing medical conditions.  So, if you 20kg overweight by BMI measure, and logging in at 22% body fat, congratulations you owe the government $427.52.   Please pay at the receptionist, VISA or MasterCard accepted.

That seems a fair way to do it. That way you aren’t punishing those people who maybe don’t eat so great, but manage to stay active and burn enough calories to remain lean… like most of us growing up 20-30 years ago who used to eat mom’s pastries, ground beef dripping in fat (who heard of lean ground beef back then?) and scalloped potatoes without any issues, because we ran around outside for hours on end, instead of playing Playstation on sunny days.

Or the other fair way would be, we suppose, to just let fat people pay for their own health care if they refuse to take responsibility for their own health and well-being.  Ah, but that would be ludicrous.

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