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The Inevitable Failure of a Junk Food Tax


Scientists yesterday have called for junk food and sweetened beverages to be taxed. Whilst I agree obesity is a problem to be solved, taxing junk food and sweetened beverages is not the way to go.

I fear that the UK government may well follow the advice, with the Conservatives pushing for it. The Conservatives love of the free market and economics that assume we are all capable of making the right choices all the time will blind them to the idea that you just have to put the right tax, the right cost onto anything and the demand will dry up.

I wish I had that kind of optimism for the human condition, however I live in a place called reality. Now reality says that humans although capable of making rational decisions are prone to making mistakes, not being able to see their mistake, they do it over and over again. In reality, whilst we are capable of doing a cost-benefit analysis, we’re also capable of throwing that away for instant gratification or a number of different other reasons.

Unfortunately in this world, its not so simple as taxing junk food or educating people in order to solve the obesity epidemic. Solving lung cancer created by tobacco and cigarettes just as difficult as well as solving binge drinking.

I’m at the moment clinically obese. My BMI is at the moment 30.7 which makes me obese by about 0.8 points and I’ve lost just over a stone in the last 2 months. Now my BMI was healthy going on overweight in school. Towards end of school and during Uni, I put on a huge amount of weight and my parents are medical professionals so I had been given all the lectures about how putting the junk food in my mouth was bad for me, putting on the weight I was, was bad for me yet I still ate the junk food, I still did little exercise. I even remember thinking as I ate, about what this was doing this to my body and how I was eating my self into medical problems down the line and into an early grave yet I couldn’t resist the instant gratification that was junk food and sweets and my personal nemesis Pepsi Max. Had there been an extra tax on the foods that I ate, would that have put me off – not one bit. I would have begrudged the extra money that I would have to spend but that wouldn’t have stopped me from eating the way I wanted to.

The only thing a Junk Food Tax would achieve would be to raise revenue to subsidise health conditions arising from the consumption of these foods or alternatively as items like cakes, non-chocolate covered biscuits are in the zero-rating VAT category, you could remove that so all unhealthy foods, all foods that are not part of a well-balanced diet are subject to the standard-rate of tax.

The other problem with adding tax to items designed at kids is that won’t know the value of junk food or sweetened drinks are so taxing the foods and beverages won’t put them off as they have no anchor price as to what the cost should be. So kids growing up under the tax will just think that thats the right value of x product. The kids who know of the tax and see the price rise, will begrudge the price rice but will still buy it.

Without dealing with the psychology and with our own human behaviour, then we can never solve the problems with obesity, binge drinking and smoking. I wish I could say this is what we need to do but aside from making the stuff that is bad for ours absolutely disgusting (which the companies will never agree to) then I’m lost. I wish I could tell you how I beat it and how to pass that onto the world at large but I can’t, mainly because I’m still dealing with it. At this moment, I still have a bottle of Pepsi Max by my side which I will soon drink knowing full well that it rots my teeth and has chemicals in it that cause cancer.

In some ways I envy the Conservatives, their nice little fantasy world makes solving problems easy but then again problems such as obesity, binge drinking and smoking would never arise.

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  1. Miggy
    September 14, 2011 at 14:06

    It’s ridiculous to propose that people are being forced to eat junk food due to its low cost in comparison to healthy food. People eat junk food due to choice. To impose costs on one side is to limit people’s ability to choose what they eat. It appears this argument is supported by people who choose to eat healthy. I think its exactly this kind of attitude that encourages the younger generations to view diet and starvation as a substitute to exercise for achieving the figure they want. If the people who eat 2 lentils for breakfast want to punish the people who like a hamburger, just so they can make their 2 lentils even cheaper then why don’t they pick up the cost by running to work in the morning instead of driving there? Healthy lifestyle isn’t even the issue in all of this. The issue is, do the public support us in introducing yet another form of tax that we can gradually increase over the years to make the rich richer and the poor poorer? This is the same government that is trying to charge us green tax for not recycling our bottles properly whilst they have been testing Nuclear weapons in the pacific ocean for the past century. People really need to wake up and smell the coffee, before it has so much tax on it that we can’t even afford it anymore…

  1. August 27, 2011 at 10:25
  2. September 8, 2011 at 19:47

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