This is not a political blog, nor will it ever be but I say it is time to raise taxes. Now before you go hog wild and begin scrolling right down to comment on why we should or should not raise taxes I am not talking about income tax. The tax that I am talking about is a tax on unhealthy foods. Do I know exactly what is healthy versus unhealthy? No, but I do know that eating a Triple Cheeseburger from McDonald’s is not healthy even if you wash it down with a 64oz Diet Coke because you thought supersizing was the right idea. I do know that getting a 12 pack of tacos from Taco Bell is not healthy. I do know that consuming a dozen donuts in one sitting is not healthy. This is not rocket science, and I’m sure that we have rocket scientists in the country who can determine at what level a food is considered unhealthy.
In the past few weeks I have had conversations with people who tell me how hard it is to eat healthy because of the cost. I’m sorry but this is ludicrous to me. If I have to tell one more person that a pepper costs next to nothing and can be added to a ton of dishes versus the cost of the Super Size meal at a fast food ‘restaurant’ plus the cost of gas to drive to the pharmacy to purchase the ridiculously priced heart management pills I am going to lose my mind. Please do not tell me it is harder to eat healthy. It was just as hard to quit smoking but now I don’t see nearly the number of smokers as I used to. Oh by the way, did you notice the taxes on a pack of cigarettes went up? Have you ever seen what a pack of cigarettes cost? Last I checked it was in the vicinity of $15.00 per pack. Think about that for a moment. Almost $1/cigarette and is it any wonder that the number of those that have quit smoking has gone up?
Let me also state for the record that McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King and all the other fast food places are NOT restaurants and should not be called that. These places are fast food stores. You are buying ‘food’ off the shelf. It is not made by a chef who went to the farmers market that morning to purchase the ingredients. It is delivered in a truck and stored for who knows how long and then created that day. You cannot order a burger at these places medium, medium rare or medium well. You get it one way despite what Burger King claims.
This is a topic that I am passionate about because in my everyday walks of life I see people who are just stuffing their faces without thinking about what they are eating. I work out of my house and do a lot of my work in coffee shops. I go in and order a decaf and a banana if I am hungry and have forgotten to pack my snacks. While sitting there I see people drinking the largest of large coffees that are topped off with mounds of sugar and cream. They then decide that it wasn’t enough sugar and order a donut or a muffin and shovel that down. They don’t chew. I’m not sure they even know what they are eating because it is gone so fast. What happens is that the body will tell the mind that it is satisfied, but then in a short time they are hungry again because what they consumed was nothing but simple sugars. They are just creating a vicious cycle for themselves that has no ending unless they take responsibility for themselves.
I think that is the crux of the argument. People just don’t want to take responsibility for what they eat, but are they fully to blame? 86% of commercials that are about food are about the high sugar foods that people consume on a daily basis. Companies like Kraft, Campbell’s and ConAgra are just that….companies. Companies are in the business of making money and what sells is the oh this tastes so good I can’t possibly give it up ‘food’ that people crave and spend more money on. When was the last time you saw a commercial for a vegetable? I can’t recall ever seeing somebody tout the benefits of brussell sprouts in a 15 second ad but Lay’s is running wild with the marketing of locally grown potatoes for their potato chips….are you kidding me?
By their own marketing campaign you can’t eat just one. Look at the serving size and it says 15 chips is one serving size. Stick you hand in the pack and come away with that salty goodness and try to limit yourself to 15 chips. They even tell you it’s not possible. By the way there are 160 calories in that one serving which would be close to approximately 10% of a typical diet of 2000 calories. Is it any wonder that the average American consumed approximately 278 additional calories per day from 1977 to 2001? Why are we turning away from this epidemic?
Epidemic too harsh a word for you? I don’t think it says enough. More and more people are turning to medications to take care of this problem instead of saying enough is enough and eating an apple. Guess who pays for this? We do through our taxes. Our health care in this country is at the brink right now and yet nobody wants to talk about the elephant in the room. Why are we ignoring this? What will it take? Seriously what will it take? If you have ideas I would love to hear them. Nothing is off the table.
I read an article by Mark Bitman in the New York Times Op-Ed Column titled Tax Soda, Subsidize Vegetables. It was very well written and researched and it made me think that raising taxes was the right thing to do because our ‘education’ has not worked. I see fast food stores being built all over Dallas so the message hasn’t been strong enough or reached enough people. Maybe when people go to the grocery store and a 12 pack of soda costs $3 more than it used to there will be a change in attitude. Maybe if the order of fries at Jack in the Box cost $1 more than they do now people will recognize that it is cheaper to eat healthier.
Here are two paragraphs from the article that stood out for me:
The average American consumes 44.7 gallons of soft drinks annually. (Although that includes diet sodas, it does not include noncarbonated sweetened beverages, which add up to at least 17 gallons a person per year.) Sweetened drinks could be taxed at 2 cents per ounce, so a six-pack of Pepsi would cost $1.44 more than it does now. An equivalent tax on fries might be 50 cents per serving; a quarter extra for a doughnut. (We have experts who can figure out how “bad” a food should be to qualify, and what the rate should be; right now they’re busy calculating ethanol subsidies. Diet sodas would not be taxed.)
Simply put: taxes would reduce consumption of unhealthful foods and generate billions of dollars annually. That money could be used to subsidize the purchase of staple foods like seasonal greens, vegetables, whole grains, dried legumes and fruit.
This makes so much sense to me that it is scary. Yes, I understand that some people who eat and drink moderately when it comes to fast foods will be hit by this as well and they are saying but why do I have to pay more. My simple answer is this: Why not? You will end up paying less if people got healthier in this country. Your life insurance premiums go up as people die at an early age from obesity so would you rather pay $1.44 for a 6-pack of Coke that you buy once every three months or pay $5 extra each month because our country is unhealthy? Simple math says charge me the $1.44 for the 6 pack that I will buy twice a year.
Please do not misunderstand me and think that I am the all mighty and don’t have a Snickers bar every now and again. I do, but I limit it and try to eat as healthy as possible but you will not catch me eating at a fast food store. There is nothing good about them and the scary thing is that we know it and yet these companies are raking in millions and profiting on our inability to control ourselves. Does this not seem insane to you?
Here is another segment of the article that struck me:
Other countries are considering or have already started programs to tax foods with negative effects on health. Denmark’s saturated-fat tax is going into effect Oct. 1, and Romania passed (and then un-passed) something similar; earlier this month, a French minister raised the idea of tripling the value added tax on soda. Meanwhile, Hungary is proposing a new tax on foods with “too much” sugar, salt or fat, while increasing taxes on liquor and soft drinks, all to pay for state-financed health care; and Brazil’s Fome Zero (Zero Hunger) program features subsidized produce markets and state-sponsored low-cost restaurants.
We are supposed to be this world power yet we are always so late to the party. How can that be? How can other countries already be considering or have already moved forward with these types of taxes? Are they clued into the obesity problem better than the United States? Are there elected official frustrated with the influx of McDonald’s, Chipotle and Long John Silver’s that this was there only recourse? I don’t know the answer but what I do know is that they deserve a round of applause for doing something that was probably not popular but did it to help salvage the lives of those in their country.
What do you think of taxing unhealthy foods?
What ideas do you have to fix the obesity problem in the United States?
** Here is another post that I found on Marcus Samuelsson’s website titled Taxing Unhealthy Foods by Matt Essert.