Exploring Human Potential

Fat Tax: Paying Big For Poor Nutrition

Posted on | August 18, 2009 | Comments Off on Fat Tax: Paying Big For Poor Nutrition

Here is the cold hard truth about Prevention according to the Institute of Medicine’s senior scholar J. Michael McGinnis. People who die early in America have mostly themselves to blame. Dr. McGinnis’s analysis reveals that 30% of early deaths are driven by genetics or inherited vulnerabilities; 20% are the result of poor environmental or social policy that create unhealthy and unsafe conditions; but a whopping 40% of the carnage is self induced by the unhealthy choices we make.1,2

Front and center is the American diet, which is bizarre on so many levels. Portion sizes are ridiculous. Processed foods are ubiquitous – babies getting snack bars on the run rather then healthy foods. Are you kidding me? And normally intelligent people making food choices that promote anorexia on the one hand and obesity on the other. The American food recipe is 1 part lazy, 2 parts rushed, and 3 parts ignorant. And ingesting this recipe, according to a recent article in Health Affairs costs each and every American household an average $1250 in extra costs a year.2,3

Most of that cost is tied to the treatment of diseases tied to obesity. If you look at all adult Americans, on average each carries 25 pounds of extra weight.4 Carrying and supporting the extra luggage means more diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and cancer. Collectively and as individuals we pay the price in dollars and years lost.5 But we’ve been saying this for awhile, and made little progress. In fact, during the current decade of dietary enlightenment, we’ve become both more rushed and more sedentary, more stressed and self indulgent, and more inclined to order out and buy junk food on the run for our families.

How to break through? The easy answer – take a note from the tobacco play book and tax poor nutrition. Cigarette tax policy created individual disincentives to individuals hooked to this killer behavior while generating much needed revenue that could be targeted to health prevention.6 The same should be done for dietary products that are making Americans sicker and our nation poorer and weaker. Take soda for example. Bizarre as it might seem, this very effective carrier of liquid obesity actually costs a third less in real dollars then it did three decades ago. During this same time period, the price of good food, like fruit and vegetables, have risen by over a third.2

Americans pay attention to price. With all the talk about health reform and how in the world we’re going to pay for it, I say this. The quickest way to get Americans attention when it comes to poor nutrition, is to make them pay for it, and pay big.

For Health Commentary, I’m Mike Magee.

1. McGinnis JM. Food Marketing To Children and Youth. Congressional Testimony. 2008. 

2. Leonhardt D. Fat Tax. New York Times. August 16, 2009. Magazine Section.

3. McGinnis JM. Think Local To Cut Fat. Health Affairs. 25, no. 6 (2006): 1744  

4. CDC. Americans Getting Taller, Bigger and Fatter. 2009. 

5. Eric A. Finkelstein, Ian C. Fiebelkorn, and Guijing Wang. National Medical Spending Attributable To Overweight And Obesity: How Much, And Who’s Paying? Health Affairs. May 14, 2003.

6. CDC. Steady Increases in Tobacco Taxes Promote Quitting, Discourage Smoking


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