Apr 062011
 

Over at Darwin’s Money, Darwin recently asked his readers if overweight people or smokers should be forced to pay more for healthcare. The logic being, of course, that being overweight or smoking will catch up to people eventually, which means they’ll end up having to pay for these health problems in the future.

In Canada, we have socialized medicine. For someone who is unhealthy, this is a great deal. They can eat crap, drink crap and smoke crap to their heart’s content, until it all eventually catches up to them. Once it does, they go see a doctor, and the problem gets fixed. Yes, they may have to wait, but our system does a great job of making sure everyone gets great medical care- eventually.

In a socialized system, there’s always going to be an unfairness. More wealthy people pay more into the system, yet less wealthy people are more likely to use the system. Wealthy people do tend to be healthier, and they have the ability to become medical tourists, going to other countries to jump the line. What’s the solution to this inequality? Enter the fat tax.

What Is A Fat Tax

Like a tax on tobacco or alcohol, a fat tax is an additional sales tax on food items that are considered to be unhealthy, like chips, pop, etc. The proceeds of the fat tax would be fed directly into our medical system, to pay for the increased medical costs of people who eat a lot of these things.

The thought behind a fat tax is that the people who eat a whole bunch of unhealthy foods should be forced to pay for their bad choices. Over the years, a small tax on everything unhealthy could really add up, meaning a bad eater could easily spend thousands on such a tax.

You know, as a potato chip salesman, maybe I should just end this post right here. I don’t want people to get the idea of taxing potato chips. That would probably be bad for business. Oh well, I’m committed now.

Advantage Of A Fat Tax

With so many people being overweight, strains on our healthcare system are only inevitable. There’s a giant glut of baby boomers that will need all sorts of care over the next 30-40 years. I know a lot of baby boomers who have eaten way too many cheeseburgers in their day, and are now carrying around more than a few extra pounds. By implementing a fat tax, we can help fill government coffers, finding a way to pay for a problem that anyone with more than two spare brain cells can see coming.

Taxes on tobacco products and alcohol have existed for years. The lottery is nothing but a tax on stupidity. These taxes give each level of government billions of dollars a year. Without these so called sin taxes, our public finances would be screwed. All a fat tax would do is add one more layer of consumption taxes.

Another advantage is that a fat tax could cut consumption of these unhealthy foods. One of the advantages of fast food is you can get a meal for under $6, around half of what you’d pay for a restaurant meal, and that doesn’t even include a tip. Potato chips, cookies and other unhealthy foods are often much cheaper than wholesome options in grocery stores, making them the only realistic choice for people without much disposable income. By increasing the price for junk food, we reduce the spread between healthy food and crap.

The Disadvantages

Now I’ll go ahead and debunk everything I just said in the last part.

The argument of letting overweight people pay for their own stupidity has one major flaw- not everyone who buys junk food is overweight. Many of the people I see buying chips have a healthy weight. I used to work with a girl who ate like crap, but never gained a pound. Why should someone with a healthy weight be forced to pay a tax paying for fat people’s medical costs?

The second problem with a fat tax is where to draw the line. Tobacco and alcohol are easy products to tax, all you have to do is tax anything with alcohol or tobacco in it. Bad food is much more difficult to tax. Would potato chips be taxed, but other snack foods be deemed as healthy enough because they’re not deep fried (but contain a crap-ton of salt)? Would lean hamburgers be okay, but hamburgers made of regular ground beef be subject to a tax? The issue of where to draw the line would not be easy to overcome.

The soda and snack food industries have very influential lobbyists. We all know those people will be trying their darnedest to stop any tax on their products.

Then there’s the cost issue. As a newly converted healthy eater, I actually save money by eating stuff that’s good for me. Fast food is convenient not because it’s cheap, but because it’s fast and easy. I can go to the store and buy 25kg of rice for $18. Sure, I’ll have to eat rice for the next year, but for $18 I can have a bunch of food that will last a very long time. If someone does this for all their food, they can eat for a reasonable cost. A fat tax wouldn’t cause anyone to reconsider McDonalds, unless the tax is over a dollar on a six dollar meal, meaning the percentage would be ridiculous.

What’s The Solution?

Like any complex problem, the solution to this issue isn’t easy. I don’t think a fat tax is the answer.

My solution is to reward people for being healthy. Give doctors the ability to issue a good health certificate, good for a year, whenever someone gets a check-up. That certificate will then entitle the bearer to some sort of tax break, as a reward for good health. Most people are like giant children, they respond much better to being patted on the back than being told they’re fat. A fat tax would be a constant reminder to an overweight person that they weren’t healthy. Of course, that might be the kick in the butt they need.

How do you feel about a fat tax? Feel free to debunk any of my debunks in the debunking zone (also known as the comments).

Tell everyone, yo!

  11 Responses to “Should Unhealthy Food Eaters Be Forced To Pay A Fat Tax?”

  1. I am all for charging an additional tax on unhealthy foods/items to help subsidize health care. What I object to is calling it a FAT tax. You seem to equate fat with being unhealhy and skinny with being healthy (i.e. your question: Why should someone with a healthy weight be forced to pay a tax paying for fat people’s medical costs?)

    Being a “healthy weight” doesn’t make anyone healthy.

    I used to be fat. Really fat. 100+ lbs overweight. Yet, when I was fat, I had low cholesterol, no diabetes symptoms, no joint issues, none of that. I’m not at all claiming that being fat was healthy, and it would have only been a matter of time before it caught up with me, but I wasn’t taking any health care money from anyone.

    However, one of my dear friends who is skinny (and therefore automatically considered “healthy” by those of you with a fat bias) ate like crap and paid for it. Her cholesterol was sky high and she took meds for it. She suffered from acid reflux and took meds for it. She had high blood pressure and took meds for it. She never exercised and couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs w/out being out of breath .. both because of her lack of nutrition and her lack of exercise.

    So the first thing that has to happen is that people need to stop automatically equating skinny with healthy and fat with “unhealthy slob”.

    Junk food is bad for you and causes health problems no matter what your weight is.

    • Interesting… I never thought of this issue from that perspective.

      As for the lingo, maybe I could have re-thought that. Since I’m lazy, I’m not going to bother to change it. :)

      For the most part, overweight people are unhealthy. They generally have higher blood pressure, cholesterol, etc. Exceptions will exist, but the trend is that people who carry around too much weight suffer from health problems.

      I agree that everyone who eats like crap will eventually have their bad habits catch up to them. Their metabolism will slow, and they’ll begin to pack on the pounds. I’m surprised the girl I know hasn’t had this happen to her.

      So yes, the focus should be more on what you put into your body and exercise, rather than a weight number. If people eat right and move around, the weight will take care of itself.

  2. Yeah, not a fan of the slang, but you’ve made some good points man.

    There’s got to be more carrots and incentives for folks to get healthier but often, any carrots you offer are too late and folks are left to figure out what they did (or ate wrong) when the consequences hit.

    Extreme obesity needs to be tackled, no friggin’ doubt there.

  3. Hey FU, we already have a fat tax, it’s called “government” !

    Kidding aside, taxes on alcohol and tobacco don’t stop people from drinking and smoking, nor do I think they will stop people eating crap. Govt would just use it as another tax grab.

    Hey we all like our junk food once in a while.. So really it all begins with diet, exercise, and healthy living – that comes from the home and parents teaching their kids. Tim Horton’s down the street is the crème de la crème of crap food, but I bet a few of you support it by investing in the stock ;) And here I am investing in MCD as a core holding – LOL – guilty!

  4. Hey FU, we already have a fat tax, it’s called “government” !

    Kidding aside, taxes on alcohol and tobacco don’t stop people from drinking and smoking, nor do I think they will stop people eating crap. Govt would just use it as another tax grab.

    Hey we all like our junk food once in a while.. So really it all begins with diet, exercise, and healthy living – that comes from the home and parents teaching their kids. Tim Horton’s down the street is the crème de la crème of crap food, but I bet a few of you support it by investing in the stock ;) And here I am investing in MCD as a core holding – LOL – guilty!

    • Hey, Tim Horton’s has all sorts of healthy sandwich/soup options. Just don’t eat dessert :)

      Unhealthy food is so ingrained in our culture that I don’t think a simple tax on it will do much to curb consumption. Maybe crap food needs to be treated like smoking- they pounded into our heads when we were little that it was bad for you. And, as a result, the numbers of smokers have gone down drastically.

  5. [...] Governments are addicted to the sin taxes generated from the sale of these vices. Until we pass a fat tax, finding a way to legalize and tax the sale of marijuana could generate billions of dollars in [...]

  6. [...] put a strain on our health care system at some point in the future. Should we fund that strain by charging a tax on junk food? Or should people just be free to stuff as many Doritos in their mouth as possible? Now I’m [...]

  7. Some interesting thoughts on the subject. Looking forward to see what else you post in the future

  8. […] Kind of related: that time I talked about a fat tax on bad food. […]

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