The Obesity Tax Landscape in 2012

Luxury Taxes for the Rich

Childhood Obesity News has been looking back at how the anti-tobacco model has influenced the idea of taxing junk food and sugar-sweetened beverages.

Alcohol and tobacco are heavily taxed, with the revenues supposedly going to help pay for the medical havoc wreaked by those substances. Sugar-sweetened drinks, or soda pop, or fizzy beverages—whatever we call them, the debate goes on about whether they should be taxed so the government can make some money that (in theory anyway) can be used to treat health conditions caused by obesity.

All along, one of the big stories has been Michelle Obama’s determination to end childhood obesity. Another has been the administration’s strangely cozy relationship with giant food corporations in ways that seem in direct contradiction to her well-publicized Let’s Move! crusade. Bridget Huber is one critic who has questioned whether the First Lady’s anti-obesity campaign has been too tolerant of Big Food.

Echoing Dr. Kelly Brownell’s sentiment that, “History is littered with unfulfilled industry promises to protect kids’ health,” Huber gave the example of the 2009 “Smart Choices” initiative dreamed up by 14 major food companies. Supposedly illustrating how well the industry could self-police, the program awarded little green “smart choice” checkmarks to the packaging of Lucky Charms, Fudgsicles, and other absurd products. Detractors have described these self-policing schemes as the fox guarding henhouse, or the lunatics running the asylum.

Will Taxes Cure Obesity? What About Healthcare?

Huber’s analysis of Michelle Obama’s vexed relationship with the industry included a look at the Partnership for a Healthier America, funded not only by seemingly neutral foundations, but by the food manufacturers themselves. The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, a consortium of 16 of the biggest food companies, made a pledge to remove 1.5 trillion calories from their products by 2015, which would take the number of calories they sold back to the 2007 baseline level, which was nothing to be proud of even then.

According to the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, that goal has already been accomplished, the 16 companies having sold 6.4 trillion fewer calories by 2012 than in 2007. This supposedly reduced the average America’s calorie intake by 99 calories per day, but whether it has made any actual difference has yet to be evaluated. The CUNY School of Public Health has been chosen for the task.

An agreement from Walmart to open more stores in “food deserts” was not exactly a major victory, considering all the problems that stem from that corporation, such as employees who are paid so little that they need to be on public assistance. The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, was touted as a measure that would do a lot toward ridding the nation of the childhood obesity plague, but not much has had a chance to happen on that front. Furthermore, the Supreme Court might strike down part of that program, the subsidies that help people afford health insurance (but only in the states using the federal health care exchanges). The projected results include:

Fourteen million fewer people would be enrolled in Medicaid, and 18 million fewer people would have private insurance purchased on the open market or on public exchanges established under the health law… It would save $824 billion in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Michelle Obama’s Moves.”, 10/29/12
Source: “The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation Pledge.” October 2014
Source: “Mixed Effects Are Seen on an Affordable Care Act Repeal.”, 06/19/15
Image by Ken Teegardin


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