Eating Ourselves to Death: The Fat Tax

Obesity is a factor in close to three million deaths each year in the U.S. Would a tax on certain foods help? What happens when people have to pay extra for unhealthy food?

We are bombarded by fast food, fat food, sugary foods, just plain bad for you foods. To get control of this weighty issue, governments want more control of your cash.

"Who do you want in your kitchen?” says Dr. Robert Lustig, MD Professor of Pediatric Endocrinology at the University of California, San Francisco. “The Federal Government who will take your wallet and your freedom, or the food industry, who has already taken your wallet, your freedom, and your health?"

The Fat Tax, aka the Twinkie Tax, is a hard sell, charging consumers more for foods high in calories, fat, and sugar, and low in nutrition.

We put people through the Fat Tax test, during a non-scientific 30 day experiment. We charged a buck each time any of them ate food on our list.

"I go out to lunch probably four days a week," explains Susan Bekaert a Fat Tax Participant.

Susan Bekaert is like most Americans. After 30 days, the harsh reality of what she eats, too many chips, too much soda.

"Absolutely it surprises me," says Bekaert.

Liefke Cox and Richard Myers are raising a growing boy. Peanut butter and processed meats make a quick meal, loaded with sugar and fat.

Jordan Hylton found out the cost of a poor diet the hard way. With help from her little sister, they counted up just how much a tax would cost her family.

It was not the cost that worried their mother; it was not knowing exactly what she was feeding her girls.

"And that is what is frustrating,” says Courtney Hylton a concerned mother. “Like, I do not want to spend three hours in a grocery store reading labels."

In all, our participants paid $552 to the Fat Tax, in one month.

"And that is a lot of money wasted," explains Hylton.

Hungary has a 50 cent tax on fatty foods, soda and alcohol. France is debating the Nutella Tax, a hit on the chocolate spread made with palm oil.

In March, New York City's ban of sodas larger than 16 ounces is supposed to go into effect. The city banned trans fats several years ago.

A study finds, on average, trans fat in people's fast food meals have dropped from three grams, to half a gram because of the ban.

Eating Ourselves to Death: The Fat Tax
REPORT #1960

BACKGROUND: Obesity is an excess proportion of total body fat. A person is considered obese when his or her weight is 20% or more above normal weight. The most common measure of obesity is the body mass index or BMI. A person is considered overweight if his or her BMI is between 25 and 29.9; a person is considered obese if his or her BMI is over 30. (SOURCE: http://www.webmd.com)
RISKS OF OBESITY: People who are obese are more likely to develop a number of potentially serious health problems, including:

* Metabolic syndrome - a combination of high blood sugar, high blood pressure, high triglycerides and high cholesterol
* Cancer, including cancer of the uterus, cervix, ovaries, breast, colon, rectum and prostate
* Sleep apnea, a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts
* Gynecologic problems, such as infertility and irregular periods
* Erectile dysfunction and sexual health issues, due to deposits of fat blocking or narrowing the arteries to the genitals
* Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, a condition in which fat builds up in the liver and can cause inflammation or scarring
* Skin problems, such as poor wound healing
(SOURCE: www.mayoclinic.com/health/obesity)

DENMARK'S FAT TAX: In 2011, the Danish government implemented a fat tax; taxing all foods high in saturated fats. The government was hoping to reduce its citizens' consumption of unhealthy foods. After one year, the Danish tax ministry abolished the tax. Danes were hopping across the international borders, just to buy butter.

TREATMENT: An active lifestyle and plenty of exercise, along with healthy eating, is the safest way to lose weight. Even modest weight loss can improve your health. Extreme diets (fewer than 1,100 calories per day) are not thought to be safe or to work very well. These types of diets often do not contain enough vitamins and minerals. Most people who lose weight this way return to overeating and become obese again. When dieting, the main goal should be to learn new, healthy ways of eating and make them a part of a daily routine. (SOURCE: http://www.webmd.com)

For More Information, Contact:

Dr. Robert Lustig, M.D.
rlustig@peds.ucsf.edu


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