The aim of this paper is to debate the introduction of a tax on fast food and soft drinks in order to curb obesity. A fat tax is one of the economic measures that can substantially reduce the intake of fatty goods, thus lowering government healthcare expenses and encouraging safe living within a country’s population. However, the report concludes that the negative effects of placing a fat tax on the population outweigh the positive effects. The increased cost of living and consumer price index as a result of the fat tax would have a negative impact on low-income earners, lowering their standard of living. Moreover, imposing of fat tax is morally wrong and unethical since limits the consumers to make rational choices regarding their consumption patterns. The paper concludes that fat tax should not be imposed on junk foods and drinks since it will increase more burden to the low-income individuals.
Key Words: Fat tax, consumer price index, cost of living, low-income earners
As demand for unhealthy drinks and food increase, health experts are concerned about the effect of increased consumer demand for their health conditions. Health problems like obesity and other diet-related diseases may be on the rise if not controlled. Policymakers argue that the fiscal policies can effectively address the issue. Imposition of fat tax on unhealthy foods and drinks can help increase the prices of such products thereby reducing their consumption. However, the impact of the fat tax on the cost of living is still a point of debate. While some people feel that fat tax will help reduce obesity and other diet-related diseases, there are contentions that it will increase the cost of living the negatively affect the poor. Introduction of a fat tax to reduce the consumption of junk food and drinks is regressive since affecting the poor who spend a large part of their income on food. This paper discusses the advantages, drawbacks, and ethical considerations of imposing the fat tax.
Positive Impacts of Fat Tax
Reduced HealthCare Cost
The primary aim of countries imposing the fat tax on junk foods and soft drinks is to lessen the consumption of unhealthy foods. When people eat healthy foods, it means that they would avoid being obese and hence, not being at risk of contracting chronic diseases associated with obesity (World Health Organization, 2000). It also implies that the costs of healthcare services due to obesity would be reduced. Increasing the prices of unhealthy foods can as well alter the consumption behaviors of individuals and make them eat healthy foods which are cheaper.
Encourages Personal Responsibility
When unhealthy food prices rise, the effect would only be felt by the people willing to feed on them. They would pay the tax by themselves, and that would be fair since the rest of the taxpayers not ready to eat unhealthy food would not pay for the same.
The revenue collected from the fat tax can be used to support other projects of the government. For instance, for the sake of reducing obesity, the government might use the junk food tax revenue to subsidize healthy food. Reduction of robust food prices would then create a culture of eating healthy foods among individuals.
Negative Impacts of Fat Tax
Failure to achieve the Tax Objective
The fat tax has been implemented in countries before testing whether its effects would directly target the obesity issues in those countries. Tax can be imposed on junk foods and soft drinks, but people who afford them would not change their eating habits (Von Tigerstrom, Larre & Sauder, 2011). If the eating habits of obese and overweight individuals are not changing due to the imposed fat tax on unhealthy foods, then it means that the primary aim of the tax is not being met. Therefore, it is not necessary to add the tax on junk and soft drinks when obesity is not reducing.
Rising Prices of Foods
Another shortcoming of the fat tax is that individuals with low income cannot cope with the rising prices of certain foods. They are, therefore, limited to eating low-quality foods since most of their income is spent on food. Some healthy foods are expensive than the junk food and soft drinks (World Health Organization, 2000). Therefore, the poor people are forced to eat low-quality healthy foods which are cheaper than the junky foods. The fat tax also aims at reducing healthcare costs associated with eating unhealthy foods. Low-income families who cannot afford quality healthy foods are forced to buy unhealthy cheap food which would equally make their bodies unhealthier (Von Tigerstrom, Larre & Sauder, 2011). Thus, tax on foods considered unhealthy only makes the lives of low-income families harder. Hence fat tax is regressive.
Junk food does not affect everyone. People of medium or low weight would feel like the tax is forced on them yet they are of good health. Others also do not mind having more substantial body mass index if what they eat should be affected by the fat tax. People are therefore denied the freedom of eating whatever they like at their normal prices.
Shift to Low-Quality Foods
Tax on junk food and soft drinks would force individuals to go for alternative foods which may also be junk regarding what they constitute. Moreover, a rise in consumer price index would force low-income families to shift to alternative foods which may be of low quality. While the main aim of the tax is to reduce health problems associated with junk foods and drinks, a shift to cheaper and lower quality foods may lead to increased health complications and healthcare cost (Mytton, Clarke & Rayner, 2012). For example, tax on soda and other soft drinks would lead people to consume other beverages with high sugar levels, which equally influence weight gain.
Fat Tax from an Ethical Perspective
According to Tran et al. (2013), an act can only be considered morally correct if it’s based on a neutral ground rather than using the advantages and the disadvantages as the major regard; instead, it should be on neutral ground. Implementing junk food tax is considered unfair, a threat to freedom and discriminating against individuals with low income (Tran et al., 2013).
However, the tax aims at reducing obesity and healthcare costs which is to the benefit of everyone. Hence, it is right to impose the tax on junk foods to help any individual who is at risk of obesity, and that is good for the society as a whole (Lobstein, Baur, & Uauy, 2004).
Consequentialism theory states that the ethicality of the situation depends on its effects. For the case of the fat tax, the government can insist on collecting revenue from the tax even if it negatively impacts on the poor citizens. Since the tax on junk foods and soft drinks has more setbacks than its benefits, it is not necessary to have the tax implemented.
Obesity has been a major health concern to many countries worldwide. If the percentage of people who are obese or overweight increases in the future years, the costs of healthcare would drastically increase. It is, therefore, essential that governments find solutions to reducing obesity. Imposition of fat tax of junk food to reduce obesity levels is considered the best fiscal policy. It would help individuals eat healthy food and in turn, reduce the costs of medication. However, the fat tax will have negative impacts on low-income families. Moreover, the fat tax imposition is unfair, discriminating and denies individuals the right to eat what they want at the normal prices. Based on negative impacts of the fat tax, it would not be advisable to have it imposed on junk foods and drinks.
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Mytton, O. T., Clarke, D., & Rayner, M. (2012). Taxing unhealthy food and drinks to improve health. BMJ: British Medical Journal, 344.
Tran, B. X., Nair, A. V., Kuhle, S., Ohinmaa, A., & Veugelers, P. J. (2013). Cost analyses of obesity in Canada: scope, quality, and implications. Cost Effectiveness and Resource Allocation, 11 (3), 1-9.
Von Tigerstrom, B., Larre, T., & Sauder, J. (2011). Using the tax system to promote physical activity: critical analysis of Canadian initiatives. Journal Information, 101 (8).
World Health Organization. (2000). Obesity: preventing and managing the global epidemic. World Health Organization technical report series, 894.