Residential Space A creative outlet during residency, turned ongoing virtual soap box

Contemplating the notion of a “fat tax”  0

Posted on November 3rd, 2006. About Health Care, Ramblings.

The Becker-Posner Blog is again discussing a notion that, while not exactly politically correct, is an interesting topic for debate. Some of you may recall my intrigue in their musings last year regarding a nation in which organ donation was an opt-out rather than opt-in system. Now, they are theorizing about the consequences of a “fat tax.”

Some of the “pros” for this fat tax, as mentioned both in their articles and in the section for reader comments, are:

  • Obesity leads to many of the United States’ most expensive health issues, such as hypertension, diabetes, hyperlipidemia, stroke, myocardial infarction, colon cancer, venous thrombosis, etc, and then these lead to other costly issues, such as peripheral neuropathy, gangrenous limbs, renal failure, colectomies, retinopathy, etc. Okay, so they didn’t list all of these as examples, but I am, and frankly I could name about sixty more, but another time perhaps…
  • Many of these people require impressive time and treatment in the inflated health care system, much of which is now supported by tax dollars (Medicaid and Medicare), and these taxes are paid by thin and obese people. Becker and Posner question – is it fair to make thin people pay for obese people when thin people are less likely to use the system for which they have paid? Hmmm…
  • A “fat tax” may serve as an initiative for people to diet and begin exercising. Better yet, the threat of such a tax, but suspension of it for those who are in the process of trying to lose weight (ie, those who can prove they have visited a gym at least two nights a week).
  • After all, many cities are beginning to impose fines on those who do not recycle in order to force a positive behavioral change for the good of greater society. Should this be so different?

However, there are cons:

  • If an obese person is not losing weight and is hypertensive, and is being taxed and feels ostracized by the health care system and thus does not seek treatment, he or she is more likely to have a stroke – a much more costly outcome than monthly antihypertensive medications. When debilitated, on whom does the burden for his or her care now fall?
  • I know when I’m cooking nutritious ingredients for meals (lean chicken breasts, fresh produce, etc) my grocery bill is higher than when I buy cheap snacks (chips, cookies, etc). If we tax overweight people, will that give them an extra reason to continue buying junk food?
  • Some will argue that it’s judgmental and critical to impose such a tax – but as is the nature of the Becker-Posner Blog, they evaluate every issue from a purely economic perspective, devoid of morality and ethics. It is an exercise in reason, much as the book Freakonomics is.

As I type this post, the thought occurs to me that perhaps fatty foods can be taxed heavily – vice taxes, if you will, much like the ones on cigarettes and alcohol. If we taxed potato chips and soft drinks (but not on diet drinks – Diet Coke with Lime and Crystal Light remain tax-free) – wow, that could pay for another two whole weeks in Iraq!

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