Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Treat Fatty Foods like Tobacco?

Hat tip to Mod-blog reader Nick for this one.

Regular readers know that I have been fighting my own "battle of the bulge" for a over a year now, and have lost 75 lbs through a combination of diet changes (portion control, no sugar, few carbs) and focused exercise (bicycling). It was hard work, and I am not sure if I would have had time or the extra energy/money to pursue all of this if I had been married or had children. (Although, hopefully now that the habits are established, it won't be a problem to take into a marriage, if I should be so fortunate.)

But policy-makers right now don't see obesity as a personal challenge for individuals. They see it as a monetary black hole sucking up health care dollars, just as the President is trying to pass health care reform. "Obesity-related diseases" (mostly heart disease and diabetes) are on the rise, and lawmakers are looking for any way to cut cost and raise money to pay for their proposed health care plans. Now, they are turning to the model of the wars on tobacco, and are considering taxing fatty or sugar-laden foods in order to pay for universal health care. The idea is if you make it expensive to buy sugar, either people will stop eating it or they will be paying for their own health care thru taxation.

It is an interesting idea, but we also need to look at the other lessons from the tobacco wars. To this day, the government both taxes tobacco products AND subsidizes the growth of tobacco in America. Government is fundamentally two-faced, and we need to be ready to face this fact as we look to increase health.


quizwedge said...

I'm not a fan of taxing something to discourage something... seems like you're either saying, "this is only for those with disposable income" or "it's not good for you, but we're going to be wishy-washy so we don't lose votes and so we can make money." That being said, one of the reasons that people eat unhealthy foods is that they are cheaper. This tax, depending on the price, could change that. Of course, the real solution would be to find a way to make good foods cheaper. This will just make it even harder for those with limited free funds to buy food.

Nomad said...

The other problem - as CRChair and I discussed today - is how to rate the "obesity-risk" for relative foods. For example, on my mother's plan, peanuts are to be avoided (oils, fats, salt) but on my plan, they are essentially my main snack (no carbs, no sugar). It works great for both of us, but depending on your definition you might wind up taxing me right out of my diet!

This is always the problem when you try to move beyond morality into "public good." Morality is pretty easily defined - at least in broad cases - by "do nothing that hurts another person." But when trying to define "public good", you always get into a difficult balancing act.