Marketing, Obesity, and the Fat Tax

I don’t usually write much here about obesity, or diets, or junk food addictions — critical diabetes issues to be sure, but not my personal bailiwick. Nevertheless, this stuff is getting harder and harder to ignore. As the D-epidemic spreads, the news resounds with stories on too much bad food and too little exercise. It’s the Westernized Lifestyle, stupid! Right?

Check out the latest hard-hitting Boston Globe editorial, which starts out by claiming, “Type 2 Diabetes is sweeping so rapidly through America we need not waste time giving children bicycles. Just roll them a wheelchair.” Ouch!

Author D.Z. Jackson’s main point is that America has “created a monster by allowing trash food marketers to prey on our children and by letting our children disappear into videoFattax_hed_1 screens.” A valid point, yes, but what to do about it? How to curb marketing without treading on our precious American free speech and entrepreneurial values? And is it not the responsibility of the informed consumer (i.e. parent) to filter out junk from quality? Just because McDonald’s says “I’m Lovin’ It” doesn’t mean you have to.

On this note, I have to say that I think the proposed Fat Tax (aka “Twinkie Tax“) is a great idea. Slap a 7 to 10 percent tax increase on high-fat, high-calorie, low-nutrient foods. After all, these are in some ways just as much a “drug” as alcohol and cigarettes, no? Opponents claim that the tax might punish poor people who spend most of their limited budgets on food, but this seems a bit absurd. Isn’t it among the poorest communities where obesity and diabetes are most rampant? As TheDiabetesBlog recently noted, “Take the money and make fruits and vegetables more affordable (!)”

California, Maine, and Maryland have apparently experimented with “fat tax” legislation; the biggest lesson learned is that the money needs to be earmarked for obesity-prevention programs or healthy food subsidies, rather than used to cover budget deficits. Doh!


20 Responses

  1. Elizabeth Zabell
    Elizabeth Zabell January 17, 2006 at 6:37 am | | Reply

    Wow! That’s some crazy stuff! As a product of an all-organic household, I agree with you that the so called “fat tax” is a good idea. Yes, it may be a little harsh, but it can’t hurt to motivate people to eat better.

    I am especially shocked to see how some diabetics eat. I went to this carb counting class a few months ago, and the nurse was explaining how to dose for a Big Mac. I was surprised. I mean, not that you couldn’t have a Big Mac, but here’s a class where you are supposed to be learning to eat better!

    People would be amazed on how many healthy foods are not as expensive as the less-nutritous “food products”.

    I believe that education is really the key to this huge (pardon the pun) problem. Maybe with the money from the taxes they could fund a program to teach the public about better eating habits…

  2. Kirk
    Kirk January 17, 2006 at 7:34 am | | Reply

    Where did you get that picture Amy? Is that someone you know?


  3. Laura
    Laura January 17, 2006 at 10:31 am | | Reply

    I have to agree, they should take that so called “fat-tax” and make the healthier foods more damn affordable. Why do they think that obesity is more rampant in the poorer communites? Because they can’t afford the healthier food!!! DUH!!!! Health costs would also go down. Why does this have to me so difficult for the them (the government) to understand!
    Okay, I feel better…LOL

  4. Laura
    Laura January 17, 2006 at 10:33 am | | Reply

    I wish I could edit my comment – I got so angry I messed up my words! HEHE!

  5. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth January 17, 2006 at 1:53 pm | | Reply

    The US needs Jamie Oliver. It all starts in the schools – although it should start at home…

    Check out – to learn about him and then check out the website that explains how he changed lunch programmes. (called dinners here in the UK). Look at Jamie’s 5 step manifesto on

  6. Kerri.
    Kerri. January 17, 2006 at 3:41 pm | | Reply

    I love Jamie Oliver. I have all his books.

  7. Rachel
    Rachel January 17, 2006 at 3:48 pm | | Reply

    Yep, I agree. My parents rarely had fast food or pre-packaged foods available in the house growing up, so my first major exposure was in college. Still young and poor and underweight. I carried that over into my post-college life and am now kicking myself over it. We’re definitely better eaters than we used to be since my type 2 diagnosis.

    It’s sad that because pre-packaged foods are cheaper and easier to work with, even food banks prefer using them to the real stuff.

    I smell a big rant about fast food and pre-packaged foods coming in my blog in the next couple days.

  8. Dimitris
    Dimitris January 22, 2006 at 10:19 am | | Reply

    I don’t believe that making healthy foods cheaper would have any real effect on fighting obesity. IMHO the money from the fat-tax (if it is ever implemented) should go to programs that will educate people about healthy eating. I have never lived in the US, (I come from Greece where fruits and vegetables are quite affordable even for those that don’t have a lot of money)but from my small experience in the UK I can say that I was eating healthy foods and spending less money than others that were eating junk foods just because I was cooking my own meals. So in my opinion the problem isn’t the price, it’s just a matter of convenience and that most people don’t understand that they may pay for this convenience later in their lives.

  9. anet
    anet January 23, 2006 at 10:35 am | | Reply

    I really like the idea of a “fat” tax, diabetes tax, whatever you wanna call it.
    Make the price of item more accurately reflect the items real COST, cost to one personally and cost to our society.
    Hell, the candy industry is subsidized as it is by all the corn syrup subsidies..

  10. Joan
    Joan January 24, 2006 at 12:09 am | | Reply

    Good nutrition is a subject that is near and dear to my heart, and I often wonder what can be done to increase the overall level of nutritional awareness in society. My problem with the “fat tax” is who decides what gets taxed? If only low-nutrient foods get taxed, OK — but I’ve seen proposals that seriously wanted to tax things like red meat, based on the incorrect assumption that the saturated fat in the red meat is bad for you. (It’s not saturated fats that are bad, it’s trans fats.) The fact is, there is so much junk science out there, including the link between dietary fat and heart disease, that the possibility of very nutritious foods (like eggs and nuts) getting taxed because of cholesterol fears, is very high.

    It’s the processed foods that are killing us. If we stopped eating hydrogenated fats and high fructose corn syrup, we’d all be a lot healthier.

  11. msampie
    msampie January 24, 2006 at 8:24 am | | Reply

    So how does one explain my daughter’s type II diabetes? She is 5 foot and weighs 85 pounds. She eats very little junk food yet has to take two diabetes medications and will probably have to go on insulin some day.

  12. magoogly
    magoogly January 24, 2006 at 2:15 pm | | Reply

    a tax on high fat foods is ridiculous. Why punish folks who work out and have a snickers bar and have a BMI <23? Why not get everyone on the scale once a year or whatever and tax the chunksters? Or how about you give up forcing folks to do whatever you think is best.

  13. AmyT
    AmyT January 24, 2006 at 10:26 pm | | Reply

    Hello Magoogly,
    One has to assume that those who indulge in the occasional Snickers bar won’t be hurt too much; the goal is to discourage those who currently live on high-fat, nutrionally bankrupt junk.

  14. Mitch Mitchell
    Mitch Mitchell February 14, 2006 at 7:33 pm | | Reply

    Well, I certainly am on the side against such a punitive tax, but with a caveat. I don’t have that big of a problem in throwing that type of tax against snack foods and the like, just as I have no problem with the extra taxes on cigarettes. However, I think one gets into a slippery slope when you start trying to decide whether there’s a big difference between eating a burger at McDonalds as opposed to eating one at (name favorite chain restaurant here) or even at a fancy hotel chain. I know that when I was diagnosed I figured I’d go down the road of good nutrition, but once I had to do the comparisons of price and saw how prices doubled or tripled, that just wasn’t happening. Not everyone has the resources to eat as healthy as we’d all like to.

  15. M.Bosmyer
    M.Bosmyer March 15, 2007 at 10:02 am | | Reply

    hum….well I have a strong view on this i just dont know how to put it into words, I guess I want to say that whatever happens they must be careful, a fat tax could create more havoc than help…and really think about the effects of such a tax on the young people, yes it would make it harder for such people to get the junk food, but I dont think that would matter for some, I think that all this tax would do would be not much for the weight and more to the pockets , yes you might think that then they will stop eating, well does taxing cigarettes stop people from smoking? thats it (smile)

  16. gernsworth
    gernsworth May 22, 2007 at 7:04 am | | Reply

    fat people will start to conserve food because of the extra tax

  17. gernsworth
    gernsworth May 22, 2007 at 7:09 am | | Reply

    less food being bought means we can send food to starving kids in africa

  18. gernsworth
    gernsworth May 22, 2007 at 7:14 am | | Reply

    this site has alot of good & bad reasons for the fat tax

  19. Rependent
    Rependent May 22, 2007 at 7:21 am | | Reply

    This is disgusting. Whats next? A law that people from other countries have to pay double because they dont look the same or speak the same language? This is one of the biggest peices of burocratic crap ive every heard!

  20. jacy
    jacy September 7, 2007 at 2:15 pm | | Reply


Leave a Reply