Globesity and Tax in 2011

dobos tort

In our last post, Childhood Obesity News took a brief look at a couple of things that went on in the United States in 2011 with regard to taxing junk food and sugar-sweetened beverages. What was happening in Europe at the same time? Catherine Cheney provided insights for Spiegel Online.

In 2011, Hungary’s obesity rate was 3 percent over the European Union average, and the nation had just led the way to the future by passing the law that would inaugurate taxes on foods with high sugar and fat content, as well as on sugar and caffeine-laced beverages. At the time, no country had a more ambitious and far-reaching “fat tax.” Viktor Orban, the Prime Minister, told the press that people who live in an unhealthful way should have to contribute more. The national treasury expected to collect €70 million per year in taxes, and pledged to spend it all on health care.

If there is a Hungarian national cake, it has to be the dobostorta or dobos torte, which traditionally boasts five (or sometimes seven) layers that include chocolate and vanilla buttercream and a caramel glaze topping. The recipe of celebrated chef Wolfgang Puck (whose heritage is Austrian) includes nearly two pounds of butter, a dozen eggs, and more than two cups of sugar. Historically, Hungarian cuisine has leaned heavily on goose fat, pure lard posing as bacon, and salads that are “just different plates of pickled vegetables,” as described by Carolyn Banfalvi, co-founder of Taste Hungary.

A more recent report, by Colin Michie for The Pharmaceutical Journal, encourages Britain to institute taxes on foods high in salt, sugar and fat:

Some countries including Hungary, for example, already do this. The strategy is not always popular and some research suggests it isn’t immediately effective. But there is considerable evidence that fiscal measures such as taxation not only lower the consumption of unhealthy foods, but are also cost-effective over the longer term….The report “Food taxes and their impact on competitiveness in the agri-food sector,” produced last year by the European Commission, also confirmed that specific taxes on sugar, salt or fat do cause reductions in consumption in European countries.

Denmark has been sin-taxing candy for 90 years, and is one of several European countries that have decided to tax soda. It was also the first country to ban trans fats, a move that was imitated by Switzerland and Austria.

The Romanian government thought about a “fat tax,” but there was a feeling that such a tax could “lead low-income Romanians to resort to even cheaper products, potentially worsening their diets.” In fact, food manufacturers, especially the beverage cartel, become very solicitous of the fate of the poor when it suits them. In their selfless magnanimity, they protest that new taxes on food will hurt low-income people. Cheney quotes Lisa McCooey, a professional mouthpiece for Food Drink Europe, who says taxation is not the way to achieve change:

Scientific research shows that taxation is not an effective instrument in addressing consumer behavior and will have no impact on obesity rates.

Lobbyists everywhere say the same thing—that consumers should be educated, and then make up their own minds. Unfortunately, no amount of education seems able to stand up against a constant barrage of advertising.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Battling the Couch Potatoes: Hungary Introduces ‘Fat Tax’, 09/01/11
Source: “A tax on junk food is the way to fight the childhood obesity crisis, 02/15/15
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