Over in the U.K., a group of researchers have suggested a radical economic technique for fighting the obesity epidemic. Whether it will ever see the light of day is another thing, but it’s certainly interesting. The technique is this: Put a tax on all unhealthy foods in the supermarket. That way, people would have to pay more for foods that are not good for their heart, blood sugar, and waistline.
The biggest finding is that they say such a tax could prevent more than 3,000 deaths every year in Britain. The economic bit would be a 17.5% rise in price on food high in sugar, salt, or fat. This tax, the researchers speculate, could stop heart attacks and strokes from happening, and people from dying.
On its head, the idea makes sense, because the quickest way people make changes in their lives is through money. So far, government officials have said they will introduce no such law. But experts on obesity, of course, are ringing a different tune. With obesity such a massive problem, perhaps every idea should be investigated.
At two major U.K. universities, scientists created three taxes to see which would improve people’s diets the most:
1. Tax foods high in saturated fat — pastries, butter, cakes, dips, spreads, etc. But they found people would just buy other unhealthy foods. This tax might even raise the risk of heart attack or stroke, as people would be eating more salty foods than before. It would increase a family’s food cost by 3.2%.
2. Give foods a score based on how unhealthy they are. At a certain score, they would become taxed. They said this would prevent 2,300 deaths and make weekly food bills four percent higher.
3. Tax a lot of food products that covers the gaps in the previous two models. This one, they found, is the most effective. It could prevent 3,200 fatal cases of stroke and heart disease each year, dropping the rate by nearly two percent across the U.K. It would raise a family’s weekly costs by 4.6%.
They suggested that the government could use the tax revenues to make fruits and vegetables cheaper to buy. But they know that this “fat tax” would be heartily opposed by all food manufacturers. And there is no word on how it could affect those with lower incomes — the most likely to have weight problems and to be hurt by an extra tax.
In any case, it’s an idea like no other. Would it fly in the U.S.?