Wednesday, August 15th 2018

You call it sin, I call it junk

Courtesy of: The Complete Body

America is having a food crisis. A large percentage of Americans are either overweight or obese.  Junk food is cheap and readily available.  This portion of our society is looked upon with disgust, outrage, and pity. They are subjected to snotty comments and are passed over for promotion. People infer they have no discipline and are slobs.

At the same time, much of our society is obsessed with thinness. Diet foods and drinks are a multi-billion dollar industry. We, as a society, scrutinize celebrities obsessively. We devour headlines describing the slightest change in their appearance: the scales have tipped in a woman who gains a few pounds or a smidgen of cellulite appears.

Is there any moderation?

Apparently, there is, but it’s hard to find that principle actually at work.  As a society, we have no idea how to live life in anything other than extremes. But, life is harder for those who are overweight. And, it might get harder still.

Calls for a sin tax on junk food, similar to that on tobacco, are gaining widespread support. And, really why shouldn’t they? Junk food is just as dangerous to our health over the long term as cigarettes. Yet, here are some criticisms of the tax proposals:

J. Justin Wilson, senior research analyst at the Center for Consumer Freedom accused the government of using spurious health arguments to sneak in a new tax on businesses. He said, “if [a] city or state is out of money, then they should own up to it, rather than trying to hide taxes in a whole slew of new fees. They should own up to their financial mismanagement and raise income taxes.” Wilson “accused the government of denying people their guilty pleasures, or, as he put it, deciding their ‘balance of enjoying life and life extension.’” He continues, “[t]hey’re punishing people for enjoying a little life once in a while.”

Ethan Epstein argues in his column on True/Slant:

[T]hese taxes are outright regressive; that is, they hurt people of lower income disproportionately. For those engaged in the service industry, or other forms of low-wage work, literally every dollar counts. A Hollywood mogul shelling out $87 for bottle of Ultimat Vodka doesn’t feel much pain from a sin tax. A 7/11 cashier scrambling to come up with $8 for a somewhat less rarified bottle of Taaka is hurt badly by California’s decision to punish him for his taste for spirits.

If we tax foods that are “heavy in calories and light on nutrition,” shouldn’t we tax all processed foods? To me, it seems that the lack of fresh food light on preservatives, dyes, and other additives is really the problem. There are plenty of overweight individuals who do not frequent McDon’s or subsist on a diet of chips and soda. So, if we propose to tax soda and chips, why not also tax that box of au gratin potatoes in Aisle 4?

I say, forget about the sin tax. After all, you would need to determine the point at which these regressive taxes actually modify behavior on the largest subset of the population. And, that would be difficult. Jacob Goldin, of the TaxVox blog,  wrote:

Lisa M. Powell and Frank J. Chaloupka recently combed the literature to find out what we know about how junk food taxes affect obesity. Their answer: not much. Most studies have concluded that changes in the price of unhealthy foods have relatively small effects on obesity rates, although one found that residents of states that repealed junk food taxes were more likely to experience subsequent obesity gains. Powell and Chaloupka concluded that it would probably require a “nontrivial” change in prices to significantly affect obesity rates. In other words, it would take a heavy tax to keep the weight off.

More importantly, however, these taxes really do not instill the knowledge or proper nutritional foundations to change behavior in the long-term.

I would propose the following instead:

  • Implement programs such as those started by Alice Waters and Jamie Oliver. Teach kids proper nutrition. Allow them to experience the taste of fresh food and start learning cooking techniques from an early age.
  • Push for more access to farmers markets.  Attending farmers markets will cut out the middle man – the grocery store – which frequently causes food to be marked up  between 10-40% or more. Buy directly from your local farmers. You’ll save money, and they’ll earn a little more, enabling both parties to benefit. Or, invest in a CSA box with a friend or neighbor.
  • Stop laughing at Rachael Ray. She’s got the right idea. Delicious and nutritious meals don’t have to take time. But, they do take some preparation and thought. Rather than focusing on learning recipes, learn to appreciate what tastes work well together and learn to cook using the proportion method. Instead of constantly running to a recipe book or the grocery store, you’ll learn to make do with what is in your fridge. Improvise. It’s fun.
  • Subsidize gym memberships.
  • Involve your kids in sports and take part in The First Lady‘s Let’s Move Initiative.

Posted by Krystyna on March 16, 2010 at 4:03pm.

One Response to “You call it sin, I call it junk”

  1. [...] week, we wrote about sin taxes on junk food and suggested that the proposed tax is regressive. And, it is. It will disproportionally affect [...]

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