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Fat tax

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Title: Fat tax  
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Subject: Soft drink, Soda tax, Obesity in Sweden, Obesity in the United Kingdom, Public health
Collection: Nutrition, Public Health, Taxation
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Fat tax

A fat tax is a tax or surcharge that is placed upon fattening food, beverages or on overweight individuals.[1] As an example of Pigovian taxation, a fat tax aims to discourage unhealthy diets and offset the economic costs of obesity.

A fat tax aims to decrease the consumption of foods that are linked to obesity. A related idea is to tax foods that are linked to increased risk of coronary heart disease. Numerous studies suggest that as the price of a food decreases, individuals get fatter.[2][3][4] In fact, eating behavior may be more responsive to price increases than to nutritional education.[5] Estimates suggest that a 1 cent per ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages may reduce the consumption of those beverages by 25%.[6] However, there is also evidence that obese individuals are less responsive to changes in the price of food than normal-weight individuals.[7]

To implement a fat tax, it is necessary to specify which food and beverage products will be targeted. This must be done with care, because a carelessly chosen food tax can have surprising and perverse effects.[8] For instance, consumption patterns suggest that taxing saturated fat would induce consumers to increase their salt intake, thereby putting themselves at greater risk for cardiovascular death.[8] Taxation of sodium has been proposed as a way of reducing salt intake and resulting health problems.[9] Current proposals frequently single out sugar-sweetened drinks as a target for taxation.[10][11] Cross-sectional, prospective, and experimental studies have found an association between obesity and the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks.[12][13] However, experimental studies have not always found an association, and the size of the effect can be very modest.[14]

Since the poor spend a greater proportion of their income on food, a fat tax might be regressive. Taxing foods that provide primarily calories, with little other nutritional value reduces this problem, since calories are readily available from many sources in diet of industrialized nations. To make a fat tax less burdensome for the poor, proponents recommend earmarking the revenues to subsidize healthy foods and health education.[11] Additionally, proponents have argued that the fat tax is less regressive to the extent that it lowers medical expenditures and expenditures on the targeted foods among the poor.[6] Indeed, there is a higher incidence of diet-related illnesses among the poor than in the general population.

Unlike placing restrictions on foods or ingredients, a fat tax would not limit consumer choice, only change relative prices.


  • History 1
    • Japan 1.1
    • Denmark 1.2
  • Scientific research 2
    • Problems with weight-based fat taxes 2.1
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


In 1942, U.S. physiologist A. J. Carlson suggested levying a fee on each pound of overweight, both to counter an "injurious luxury" and to make more food available for the war effort.[15] The concept was reintroduced by Milton Merryweather and P. Franklin Alexander in the late 1970s, but became well known in the early 1980s by Kelly D. Brownell, 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

  • Colquhoun, Lachlan (2006-05-27). "Shouldn't we tax fatties? Daily Mail article by Giles Coren, host of 'Tax the Fat' More4 documentary.". Daily Mail (London). Retrieved 2006-08-30. 
  • "'"Government unit 'urges fat tax. BBC News. 2004-02-19. Retrieved 2006-05-09. 
  • Leigh, Suzanne (2004-12-01). Twinkie tax' worth a try in fight against obesity"'". USA Today. Retrieved 2010-05-02. 
  • "Small Taxes on Soft Drinks and Snack Foods to Promote Health" (PDF). 
  • "Irish government may introduce 'fat tax' on certain foods". 
  • Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University

External links

  1. ^ WSJ-Japan Fat Tax
  2. ^ French, S.A. (2003). "Pricing effects on food choices". Journal of Nutrition 133 (3): 841–843.  
  3. ^ Cinciripini, P.M. (1984). "Changing food selections in a public cafeteria: an applied behavior analysis". Behavioral Modification 8 (4): 520–539.  
  4. ^ Epstein, L.H.; Handley, E.A.; Dearing, K.K.; Roemmich, JN; Paluch, RA; Raja, S; Pak, Y; Spring, B; et al. (2006). "Purchases of food in youth: influence of price and income". Psychological Science 17 (1): 82–89.  
  5. ^ Horgen, K.B.; Brownell, K.D. (2002). "Comparison of price change and health message interventions in promoting healthy food choices". Health Psychology 21 (5): 505–512.  
  6. ^ a b Brownell, Kelly D.; Farley, Thomas; Willett, Walter C.; Popkin, Barry M.; Chaloupka, Frank J.; Thompson, Joseph W.; Thompson, David S.; Ludwig (2009). "The Public Health and Economic Benefits of Taxing Sugar-Sweetened Beverages". Health Policy Report of the New England Journal of Medicine 361 (16): 1599–605.  
  7. ^ Epstein, L.H.; Dearing, K.K.; Paluch, R.A.; Roemmich, J.N.; Cho, D. (2007). "Price and maternal obesity influence purchasing of low- and high-energy-dense foods.". American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 86 (4): 914–922.  
  8. ^ a b Mytton, O; Gray, A; Rayner, M; Rutter, H (2007). "Could targeted food taxes improve health?" (PDF). Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 61 (8): 689–694.  
  9. ^ "Salt tax could massively reduce US mortality rates, healthcare costs". 2010-04-01. 
  10. ^ Chan, Sewell (16 December 2008). "A Tax on Many Soft Drinks Sets Off a Spirited Debate". The New York Times. 
  11. ^ a b Brownell, Kelly D.; Frieden, Thomas R. (2009). "Ounces of Prevention — The Public Policy Case for Taxes on Sugared Beverages" (PDF). New England Journal of Medicine.  
  12. ^ Malik, V.S.; Schulze, M.B.; Hu, F.B. (2006). "Intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain: a systematic review". American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 84 (2): 274–28.  
  13. ^ Vartanian, L.R.; Schwartz, M.B.; Brownell, K.D. (2007). "Effects of soft drink consumption on nutrition and health: a systematic review and meta-analysis" (PDF). American Journal of Public Health 97 (4): 667–675.  
  14. ^ "More support for a junk-food tax".  
  15. ^ Engber, Daniel (September 21, 2009). "Let Them Drink Water! What a fat tax really means for America.".  
  16. ^ Brownell, Kelly (15 December 1994). "Get slim with higher taxes". The New York Times. 
  17. ^ "Silver Bullets — US News and World Report". 1997-12-29. Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  18. ^ Huckabee, Mike (2006-05-08). "Kelly Brownell - The 2006 TIME 100 - Time". Time. Retrieved 2013-03-02. 
  19. ^ Marshall, Tom (2000; 320:301-5. "Exploring a fiscal food policy: the case of diet and ischaemic heart disease.". British Medical Journal. 
  20. ^ Srikameswaran, Anita (6 December 2003). "World Health Organization wants 'Twinkie tax' to discourage junk foods". Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Retrieved 13 September 2009. 
  21. ^ "Taxing Sin to Modify Behavior and Raise Revenue" (PDF). April 2010. Retrieved 7 February 2015. 
  22. ^ Montopoli, Brian (January 7, 2010). "Poll: Most Oppose Tax on Junk Food". CBS News. Retrieved January 9, 2010. 
  23. ^ New York 1 News, Poll Shows Voters Sweeten To Idea Of Sugary Drink Tax,
  24. ^ "UK could introduce 'fat tax', says David Cameron". The Guardian. 2011-10-04. Retrieved 2011-11-02. 
  25. ^ Japan, Seeking Trim Waists, Measures Millions-June 2008
  26. ^ "Denmark introduces world's first food fat tax". BBC News. October 1, 2011. Retrieved October 11, 2011. 
  27. ^ a b "Denmark to abolish tax on high-fat foods". BBC News. 11 November 2012. Retrieved 12 November 2012. 
  28. ^ "Denmark to scrap world's first fat tax". ABC News. 11 November 2012. Retrieved 11 November 2012. 
  29. ^ a b ‘Fat Tax’ in Denmark Is Repealed After Criticism by Stephanie Strom, New York Times, November 12, 2012. (note: A version of this article appeared in print on November 13, 2012, on page B4 of the New York edition with the headline: Fat Foods Tax Is Repealed In Denmark.)
  30. ^ Denmark scraps world’s first fat tax by Sarah Kliff, Washington Post, November 13, 2012.
  31. ^ Ousborne, Jeff. "Does This Tax Make Me Look Fat?". 


See also

There is no perfect standard for fat taxes. Body mass index (BMI) can be used as a measurement of obesity, however it is not a good indicator of overall health. Using BMI as a standard would prove to be unsuccessful because it doesn’t take many health conditions into account, such as high blood pressure, and doesn’t fluctuate dramatically enough to lower a tax if an individual were to lose weight. Another problem with weight-based fat taxes is that it would come with a high cost and a need for new government administration departments. There is also no evidence that a weight-based fat tax would lead to long-term healthy behavior. There are too many factors that affect what people choose to eat, and fat taxes only account for the economic. Fat taxes are also highly disapproved of by the liberal party because such a tax is stigmatization, discrimination, and an oversimplification of obesity’s complicated causes and the issues surrounding it. The conservative and libertarian party disapprove of fat taxes because it looks to them as if the government is invading the privacy of the American people and trying to dictate how they live their lives. [31]

Problems with weight-based fat taxes

Scientific research

Mette Gjerskov, the Danish minister of food, agriculture and fisheries, stated that "the fat tax is one of the most criticized we had in a long time. Now we have to try to improve public health by other means.” Although the tax resulted in an additional $216 million in revenue, it also led to numerous complaints from Danish retailers that their customers were taking their business to other countries, such as Sweden and Germany, to take advantage of their lower prices.[29][30]

In October 2011, Denmark introduced a fat tax on butter, milk, cheese, pizza, meat, oil and processed food if the item contains more than 2.3% saturated fat.[26] However, in November 2012, the Danish Tax Ministry announced it would abolish the fat tax,[27] stating that it failed to change Danes' eating habits, had encouraged cross border trading, put Danish jobs at risk and had been a bureaucratic nightmare for producers and outlets.[27][28] The proposed sugar tax plans were also scrapped.[29]


Japan implemented a measurement of waist sizes in 2008. The New York Times wrote: "To reach its goals of shrinking the overweight population by 10 percent over the next four years and 25 percent over the next seven years, the government will impose financial penalties on companies and local governments that fail to meet specific targets. The country’s Ministry of Health argues that the campaign will keep the spread of diseases like diabetes and strokes in check."[25]


In October 2011, British prime minister David Cameron told reporters that his government might introduce a Fat Tax as part of the solution to Britain's obesity problem.[24]

A CBS News poll from January 2010 reported that a tax on items such as soft drinks and foods considered to be junk food, is opposed 60% to 38%. An even larger number, 72% of Americans, also believed that a tax would not actually help people lose weight.[22] However, the question of whether or not taxation influences diet is an empirical question and not simply a matter of public opinion. While a February 2010 poll by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute found that New York residents overwhelmingly favor a soft drink tax, with 76 percent wanting the tax, and 22 percent opposing it. The poll found both Republicans and Democrats favor the tax.[23]

Other advocates of the tax, such as Jonathan Gruber (economist)[21] point to the effect taxes have had on alcohol and tobacco use. Five studies published between 1981 and 1998 found that drinking declined as the price of alcohol increased. The same holds for tobacco. In California in 1988, Proposition 99 increased the state tax by 25 cents per cigarette pack and allocated a minimum of 20% of revenue to fund anti-tobacco education. From 1988 to 1993, the state saw tobacco use decline by 27%, three times better than the U.S. average.

Bruce Silverglade, director of legal affairs for the sedentary lifestyles to fund nutrition and exercise programs. It should also be remembered that taxing foodstuffs is not an argument for increasing taxation. Other taxes can be reduced commensurately if the overall objective is to keep the tax take neutral. The fat tax is an argument for raising taxes on activities that we prefer to discourage (consumption of certain foodstuffs) rather than raising taxes on socially desirable activities. Therefore opponents of this type of taxation must identify which taxes are preferable to taxing these foodstuffs.

According to the WHO report, "Several countries use fiscal measures to promote availability of and access to certain foods; others use taxes to increase or decrease consumption of food; and some use public funds and subsidies to promote access among poor communities to recreational and sporting facilities." [20]

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