A fat tax is a type of "vice tax" placed on foods high in empty calories in an attempt to encourage healthy eating habits. The revenues generated from the tax could be used to fund nutrition and anti-obesity programs and to subsidize the production of healthier foods. The fat tax was first suggested in the 1980s by Dr. Kelly D. Brownell, the director of The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale. The World Health Organization published a report advocating the fat tax in 2003.
The theory behind the fat tax is that the prices of foods have an effect on what people eat; much "junk food," from fast food chains to processed, packaged chips and snack cakes, is significantly cheaper than healthier alternatives. Therefore, making junk food expensive may make people less likely to buy it, especially if the fat tax is used to subsidize healthier foods and make them cheaper to the consumer. Similar "vice taxes" have been used to limit the consumption of alcohol and tobacco. The tax on tobacco can provide a useful model for the fat tax, as revenues are used to fund anti-tobacco advertisements and programs.
Opponents of the fat tax complain that it would allow the government to interfere too much in the personal choices of its citizens. There is also concern over how decisions would be made regarding which foods count as "healthy" or "unhealthy;" the fat tax is not as simple as taxing everything containing tobacco, for instance. Opponents are also wary of the additional bureaucracy that a fat tax may require.
Despite these concerns, many feel that the fat tax is among the most promising suggestions to deal with obesity, which has become a major public health concern in recent decades. The similar taxes on tobacco and alcohol have been successful. Proponents of the fat tax claim that the focus is on promoting a healthy diet and lifestyle, rather than on simply restricting what people consume.