Thinking about Tax in 2012

coke truckChildhood Obesity News is looking back over the last 5 years, at how different factions in America think about taxation in the context of obesity prevention, and at various efforts that have been made both here and abroad. Probably, by the year 2030, no state will have an obesity rate under 44 percent, and in 13 states, the obesity rate will be 60 percent. These numbers are projected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the dollar amounts that go with them are equally dismaying.

By 2030, the annual cost of treating obesity-related medical conditions in the US is expected to be $210 billion per year, a substantial portion of which will be paid by the American taxpayer. It seems only fair that the people who will need medical care should start paying for it up front, at the point of sale. Some call it a “sin tax,” to punish people for the transgressions of eating candy, drinking soda pop, and becoming obese.

Mark Bittman, New York Times columnist and author of “How to Cook Everything,” is no fan of sugar, which he characterizes as a dangerous substance of perfect legality and universal availability. He particularly resents the expenditure of billions of dollars to influence children. His words are:

What choice do we have but to regulate it, just as we would—and do—regulate tobacco and alcohol and, for that matter, firearms?

Sugar is not exactly an invading army, but it can be thought of as a hostile force, and the processed food industry has succeeded in getting us to eat way more of it than is good for us. Will power alone isn’t enough to stop that—we need national defense.

The purpose of government, he says, is “to protect us from the things from which we cannot protect ourselves.” The counterargument to that, with regard to children, is that parents are the ones who buy the food, and it’s their job to supervise what their kids eat, and handing over such intimate matters to the government equals capitulation to tyranny.

Usually, regulation takes the forms of licensing, taxation, and various sanctions tailored to particular situations such as hiring. Regulation always has unintended consequences. It can create black markets and crime, in place of the poor judgment and bad choices we already have now. These are some of the more familiar objections.

It becomes more and more obvious that childhood obesity originates from many underlying causes that are like tributaries flowing into the mighty river of Addiction. The contributing factors are advertising, and availability, and economic status, and family dynamics, and cultural influences, and many more. They all join in the middle, where pretty much everybody seems addicted to something.

While addiction can be treated, it is apparent that the healing might not be complete or permanent until the underlying causes of the psychological distress are addressed. No government could undertake such a monumental task, and a lot of Americans would not even want it to try. For, Greg Critser wrote a piece called “Close to markets or not, fat poor kids are different than fat rich kids.” He tackled the tax question:

Building new supermarkets or farmer’s markets addresses none of these core causes, but building other kinds of institutions would. To get at the root of the problem, we need more maternal services in the inner city, from pre-natal care to nutrition education and early childhood monitoring of growth rates. Traditionally such clinics derive funding from universities and city governments, but what if we required big food sellers—the kind who reap huge profits by selling soft drinks—to underwrite such basic services as part of their business license fees? Think of the tobacco industry’s forced underwriting of smoking cessation programs.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Fat America – You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,”, 01/11/12
Source: “Sugar: Public (health) enemy No. 1?,”, 03/01/12
Source: “Close to markets or not, fat poor kids are different than fat rich kids,”, 05/07/12
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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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