Friday, November 13, 2009

Taxing to Reduce Obesity and its Costs?

Of the more than ninety columns on this blog, I have written all but one. Now I have found one more by another author that I would like to share with you. It was written by Gregg Cavanagh in response to a proposal by two professors for a national tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. The professors claim a tax on soft drinks would provide about $150 billion in tax revenue over ten years and about $50 billion in direct health benefits. They claim it would help Americans lose weight and that the U.S. spends $147 billion on medical costs associated with overweight and obesity. But Cavanagh, with wit and logic, shows such a tax would be unfair, ineffective, and downright ludicrous if its basic idea is consistently applied. More importantly, he also shows that the real solution is not another government program, more taxes and government intervention but rather individual responsibility and action. Here is his article:

In February, I weighted 280 pounds. I'm 5 feet 10, and my claim that I was “big-boned” was wearing pretty thin. Even a mastodon my height wouldn't weigh that much. So the recent proposal by Kelly Brownell and David Ludwig to tax sugar-sweetened beverages got me thinking.

My first reaction was that Brownell and Ludwig didn't go far enough. If sugar-sweetened soda should be taxed, how about ice cream, cake, doughnuts, cookies and candy? They have plenty of sugar in them. And what about sugar? It has plenty of sugar in it, too. We should tax anything with lots of sugar in it.

Unfortunately, I don't think that tax would work for people like me. Ive been drinking sugar-free soda for 30 years. I cut out sweets long ago. No, under even an expanded Brownell-Ludwig tax, certain categories of overweight people would fly (all right waddle) under the radar. We need a wider net.

Maybe we need a tax on foods high in fat and carbs, too. We all know what a diet of fast food can do to the figure. But it wouldn't be fair to stop at the fast-food restaurants, would it? After all, regular restaurants, vending machines and even grocery stores are loaded with sugar, fat and carbs. Let's tax 'em all!

But wait a minute. I know plenty of people who eat sugar, fat and carbs who aren't overweight. Why should they be discouraged from eating or drinking the things they like? Why should they be taxed for a problem they don't have?

Maybe the real problem is quantity. People who eat in moderation tend to be slimmer, and people who overeat tend to be heavier, right? Maybe we need a portion tax. The person who says, “supersize me” pays a percentage. The person who orders the regular combo gets off with a warning.

Still, there are those freaks of nature who eat like horses and stay skinny as rails. Something about metabolism. Sure, we may hate them, but is it really fair to impose a portion tax on them? If we discourage them from eating those big meals, they may just waste away entirely. Hmmmmm.

I've got it! Why don't we just enact an obesity tax? After all, that's what we're really trying to prevent, isn't it? We can mandate that everyone go to the Department of Body Mass once a year and weigh in. A person's body mass index will determine his or her obesity tax for the year. Heavier people tend to emit more carbon dioxide, so the tax will encourage them to reduce their carbon footprints, too.

Of course, poor people can't afford an obesity tax, so rich people will have to pay more. Rich people can afford weight-loss programs and personal trainers anyway, so it's only fair. Flexibility can be provided through a cap-and-trade system, under which people can trade fat credits on the open market. Al Gore would benefit in more ways than one.

I hope I'm making my point. “Experts” like Brownell and Ludwig invoke their credentials to push their personal agendas, and the federal government legislates those agendas to herd us like sheep. The government that declared the failed wars on poverty, crime and drugs stands ready to declare a new war on obesity. The government with the $12 trillion debt can't wait to tell us to stop overindulging. And once more, freedom yields.

So what's the solution? Well, in February, I stopped blaming my ancestors, my body, my job, the food industry and the advertising industry, and took responsibility for myself. I changed the way I eat.

It hasn't been a piece of cake. Exercising freedom isn't always easy. But so far, I've lost 82 pounds. And I've done it without a federal stimulus, a cash-for-calories program, or Brownell's and Ludwig's sugar tax. Granted, it's just one little gesture in support of freedom. But I figure I'm bigger—and smaller—for it.

1 comment:

Ben said...

Excellent article. I like the allusion to cap & trade, not that I condoned it.

The question really is about personal freedom and responsibility. But as long as the state can cash in, there is nothing to stop it, is there?