March 11, 2010

Bring on the Junk Food Taxes!

Bring on the junk food taxes (combined with more subsidies to help lower the price of healthy food!). Yeah, that's right, pure, unadulterated "nanny state," baby.

This is a good follow up to a study I mentioned the other day. That study found that increasing the price of junk food was a more effective means of improving people's food choices than bringing down the price of healthy food. Now a new study -- this time, not a virtual study, but a 20-year study of actual human behavior -- shows that higher prices for soda and pizza decreased consumption of those items. The bottom line, 124 calories less a day, 2.3 pounds a year.

This has got to be the most persuasive study to date showing that a sin tax on soda or junk food would actually have the desired effect -- and not just aggravate people who care to indulge in an occasional root beer (or threaten their sense of personal freedom). Soda tax advocates may embrace it as proof that their policy goals are justified.

One need only look to the "comments" section of blogs or newspapers to see whining about "nanny state" when taxes on soda or Pringles are suggested. Would they say the same thing about seat belt laws? How about warning labels and PSAs on the health consequences of smoking?

Yes, this not as simple as taxing every bag of Doritos. It's well documented that many people in low-income areas are heavy consumers of soda and junk food. That kind of thing happens when you don't have a real grocery store in your vicinity, don't have reliable transportation, or the cash to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. So there have to be concurrent changes in policies to lower the price of healthy food and make it more accessible. And that is a huge hurdle to overcome.

But the argument can be made that obesity is the #1 public health issue of our time. In that light, taking these policy measures should be a no brainer.

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