A Modest Proposal to Fight Obesity
August 8, 2007
Tax Foundation Summer Research Fellow Adam Creighton, responding to calls for taxes on fatty foods, has a modest proposal to fight obesity:
If the government insists on trying to reduce obesity, then a tax on fatty foods is not the way to do it. It’s not well targeted, it’s not simple, and it’s not transparent. In other words, it fails every test of sound tax policy. Proposed fat taxes target a list of foods, usually starting with candy and then proceeding to butter, beef, etc. If adding cost to fatty food actually reduced consumption among potentially fat people and if these growing adults didn’t just bulk up on slightly less-fatty food (which becomes relatively cheaper), then maybe fat taxes could be effective. But this rosy outcome is unlikely. Slim people like fatty food, too, and there’s no justice whatsoever in making them pay more.
What about simplicity? A fat tax requires assigning a tax rate to every food product. Who is going to do this? Presumably, some government agency devoted to the nation’s nutrition will declare which foods must be punished, then watch to see if they’ve driven down sales sufficiently. But business, being business, will try to get around this by re-labeling and re-designing food to trick the fat police. The result will be a morass of fat tax complexity.
Finally, a fat tax is far from transparent. It will always be unclear who is actually bearing such a tax because there will be no reliable records kept about who buys what food when.
But there is a far better solution that has received surprisingly little public attention: the fat-person tax.
It is simple, transparent and neutral. This system would operate smoothly through the IRS, as everyone would submit an official Body Mass Index (BMI) report with their annual tax return. The IRS would make the fat tax calculation for you.