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Fighting Obesity with Sugar Taxes

January 9, 2014

SugarsA new study by the National Bureau of Economic Research concludes that a 20 percent tax on sugar could reduce the average American’s total caloric intake by 18 percent and sugar consumption by more than 16 percent. The study notes that taxes on fat and salt would also help improve nutrition in the United States, cutting total caloric intakes by 19 percent and 10 percent respectively. An entry on the Huffington Post suggested that the taxes would fall in line with other taxes already imposed on unhealthy behaviors like smoking and drinking and would help to reduce the huge impact of obesity and related health care costs—estimated to cost taxpayers $147 billion per year.

Not surprisingly, the proposal is steadfastly opposed by the food industry. But there are also broad questions of social and economic justice at play here. Taxes on consumer goods always disproportionately affect poorer consumers, for whom the taxes will represent a larger portion of their income. At the same time, the public health impacts of high levels of consumption of sugar, fat, and salt continue to rise. It’s likely time to start rethinking food policy, I’m just not sure whether or not this is the right direction.


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