What is an Obesity Tax?

B. Schreiber

An obesity tax is a tax designed to decrease the obesity of a population, usually by taxing junk foods that are rich in calories but offer little nutrition. It is sometimes known as a fat tax. Suggested foods to be taxed often include soft drinks, foods high in certain fats, and snack foods. The obesity tax has been compared to others that are designed to decrease negative behaviors, such as those on alcohol or cigarettes. Opponents disagree over the pros and cons of an obesity tax and what it would include.

Fast food may be subject to an obesity tax.
Fast food may be subject to an obesity tax.

The most common form of an obesity tax is a small tax that is added to snack foods, sugared sodas, and juice-flavored drinks with added sugar. Other plans may include taxes on fast food, sweets or candy, and the so-called bad fats — trans fat and saturated fat. It's proposed that this could reduce the total number of calories consumed, leading to a decrease in obesity. If this is the case, fighting obesity with a tax could also reduce related health problems, such as heart disease. It's often suggested that the money raised from these taxes could be used to educate the public about a healthier way of eating.

Eating too much food -- especially junk food -- can cause obesity. These foods may be taxed to encourage people to eat healthier.
Eating too much food -- especially junk food -- can cause obesity. These foods may be taxed to encourage people to eat healthier.

The discussion over a tax on obesity often centers on which types of food should be taxed. Soft drinks may be high in calories from sugar, but contain no fat. On the other, olive oil is often considered healthy, but all of its calories come from fat. This has led to disagreement over how an effective obesity tax would be put into action.

Those in favor of an obesity tax argue that the tax could have an effect similar to that on cigarettes. Cigarette smoking has dropped in many countries due to increased taxes and public health campaigns. Supporters may say it could change people's habits at a younger age, when kids and teenagers won't pay more than they have to. A number of other arguments say that it could reduce health care spending and raise money for better health awareness. Those in favor also argue that a limited tax could target only the most harmful foods.

Critics of a tax on obesity sometimes say that it can focus on only part of the problem. For instance, two snack foods could contain the same amount of calories, but only one might be taxed because it has one of the so-called bad fats. Also, critics argue that there is less evidence that junk food alone is a major cause of obesity. Others worry that an obesity tax would simply be a regulation that reduces consumer choices.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


@Scrbblchick -- Good points. What really worries me is whether the extra taxes from junk food or fast food will be used to reduce the prices of healthy food?

Many people eat convenience foods because that's what they can afford. They're the working poor, and junk food may be about the best they can afford. So will produce, chicken and other healthy foods be cheaper? I doubt it.

Because of secondhand smoke (which I hate), smoking has been made a public sin. Now, the hipsters are focusing on fat people, who may not be able to control much about their size. What about overweight people who are in otherwise good health? But being overweight is the new sin. It indicates that someone is obviously a complete failure as a human. So, unless that person is willing to change, why not imprison and starve him? You think it can't happen? Don't bet on it.

Charles Dickens said it best: "If they be like to die, they'd better do it then, and decrease the surplus population."


Years ago, I did a persuasive speech against passing laws requiring people to wear seatbelts in cars. Not that I don't think it's a good thing. I just don't think it's a good thing for the government to decide what's good for us. I said in that speech that passing such a law would be tantamount to voters giving the government free reign to determine what is "good" for us in every area of our lives, including in our diets.

In 1987, they laughed at me. I wonder if anyone who heard my speech and reads about possible "obesity" taxes, is laughing now? It took longer than 1984, but Big Brother has definitely moved into the neighborhood, even if he's not living in the houses yet.

Post your comments
Forgot password?