How to get Americans healthier & save on national health care costs? One answer: tax empty junk foods, subsidize nutritious healthy foods.
Much has been written in the past year regarding an emerging trend where areas of demographic poverty often opt for poor nutrition and diet, due to how cheap calorie rich, nutrient poor junk food tends to be. While many opine that one's diet is one's free choice, the arguments have also been made that allowing items of no nutritional value to be categorized otherwise is not only misleading, but a danger to our national health care system, and our budget as a nation. With so much evidence now available that poor diet not only leads to a malnourished populace, but also one that has a lower I.Q. and a predisposition to chronic ailments later in life, conclusions can be drawn that show the current direction of poor nutrition will result in billions of expenses in the future for taxpayers and medical needs. Should these nutrient poor items be taxed to not only affect consumer habits but also increase tax revenue to offset the additional healthcare expenses caused by including excessive amounts of these products in a person's diet?
In this Op-Ed Piece from NY Times Columnist Mark Bittman, a strong case is made for the taxation of junk foods that, as a current staple of many people's diets due to their cheap prices is causing soaring amounts of diabetes, and obesity. This tax could then be used to subsidize real groceries, vegetables and fruits and make them available readily and affordable to every American.
WHAT will it take to get Americans to change our eating habits? The need is indisputable, since heart disease, diabetes and cancer are all in large part caused by the Standard American Diet. (Yes, it’s SAD.)
Though experts increasingly recommend a diet high in plants and low in animal products and processed foods, ours is quite the opposite, and there’s little disagreement that changing it could improve our health and save tens of millions of lives.
And — not inconsequential during the current struggle over deficits and spending — a sane diet could save tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars in health care costs.
Yet the food industry appears incapable of marketing healthier foods. And whether its leaders are confused or just stalling doesn’t matter, because the fixes are not really their problem. Their mission is not public health but profit, so they’ll continue to sell the health-damaging food that’s most profitable, until the market or another force skews things otherwise. That “other force” should be the federal government, fulfilling its role as an agent of the public good and establishing a bold national fix.
Rather than subsidizing the production of unhealthful foods, we should turn the tables and tax things like soda, French fries, doughnuts and hyperprocessed snacks. The resulting income should be earmarked for a program that encourages a sound diet for Americans by making healthy food more affordable and widely available.
The average American consumes 44.7 gallons of soft drinks annually. (Although that includes diet sodas, it does not include noncarbonated sweetened beverages, which add up to at least 17 gallons a person per year.) Sweetened drinks could be taxed at 2 cents per ounce, so a six-pack of Pepsi would cost $1.44 more than it does now. An equivalent tax on fries might be 50 cents per serving; a quarter extra for a doughnut. (We have experts who can figure out how “bad” a food should be to qualify, and what the rate should be; right now they’re busy calculating ethanol subsidies. Diet sodas would not be taxed.)
Simply put: taxes would reduce consumption of unhealthful foods and generate billions of dollars annually. That money could be used to subsidize the purchase of staple foods like seasonal greens, vegetables, whole grains, dried legumes and fruit.
We could sell those staples cheap — let’s say for 50 cents a pound — and almost everywhere: drugstores, street corners, convenience stores, bodegas, supermarkets, liquor stores, even schools, libraries and other community centers.
This program would, of course, upset the processed food industry. Oh well. It would also bug those who might resent paying more for soda and chips and argue that their right to eat whatever they wanted was being breached. But public health is the role of the