With the increasing burden of obesity, diabetes, and heart diseases on the society, the government is concerned with introducing measures that would encourage people to live healthier lives (Young, 2015). Placing taxes on junk food is one of many initiatives believed to make the nation healthier. However, this suggestion has faced considerable criticism by policymakers and the wider public. On the one hand, one may suggest that higher prices would discourage people from buying unhealthy food. On the other hand, they may put some population groups at a disadvantage and pose substitution problems. In this short essay, I intend to look at pros and cons of taxing junk food and express my own opinion regarding this issue.
During the past decades, many tax proposals were made to address the problem of obesity. Policymakers suggested to tax nutrients, sugar-sweetened beverages, snacks, and junk food, arguing that these are the most harmful products available on the market (Franck, Grandi, & Eisenberg, 2013). One cannot deny the logic behind these initiatives, especially given the increasing popularity of these products in both developed and developing countries (Marron, Gearing, & Iselin, 2015). Evidence shows that increased taxes on tobacco and alcohol have helped to reduce their consumption considerably, which allows expecting the same effect with junk food taxes. It is believed that high prices would discourage people from buying unhealthy products, thus contributing to the improved well-being and weight loss.
However, there are many challenges concerning this initiative. As noted by Franck et al. (2013), it is difficult to choose between small excise taxes and high excise taxes. The former would hardly bring significant results whereas the latter could be more effective yet politically undesirable. Furthermore, higher taxes on junk food may put some population groups at a disadvantage. The problem is that currently, junk food is cheap and available to the most disadvantaged populations. Increased prices would mean that some people would no longer be able to buy these products.
This, in turn, raises the problem of substitution. If the government wants to protect people, it should make healthy products more accessible. People should be given healthy alternatives like vegetables, fruits, fresh meat, etc. that they can buy at a reasonable price. However, making healthy food cheap is extremely difficult because of enormous human and natural resources needed to produce it in the required amounts. In other words, the government placing taxes on junk food should consider policy implications and develop related programs and initiatives to support the production of healthy products.
Furthermore, it is important to stress that the tax policy itself would not bring positive results (Franck et al., 2013). Educational and health initiatives are also required to teach people on the importance of a healthy diet, regular exercises, and sleep patterns. Losing weight is certainly important but there are many other determinants of health that need to be considered. People should be aware of these factors and be willing to change their lifestyles. Otherwise, no tax increases would encourage people to give up their established habits. People can easily find unhealthy substitutes for junk food, so it is their minds and attitudes that should be targeted, not their pockets.
To conclude, I would like to emphasize that taxing junk food is a rather controversial initiative. One may expect that increased prices would discourage many people from buying unhealthy products. However, there are many factors and challenges that need to be considered. First, it is necessary to provide accessible and healthy alternatives. Second, the tax rates should be carefully assessed to balance health goals and political interests. Third, educational and health programs need to be introduced to ensure that people themselves want to change their lifestyles.
Franck, C., Grandi, S. M., & Eisenberg, M. J. (2013). Taxing junk food to counter obesity. Am J Public Health, 103(11), 1949–1953. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2013.301279
Marron, D., Gearing, M., & Iselin, J. (2015). Should we tax unhealthy foods and drink? Tax Policy Center. Retrieved from http://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/alfresco/publication-pdfs/2000553-Should-We-Tax-Unhealthy-Foods-and-Drinks.pdf
Young, T. (2015). A fat tax is not the way to fight obesity. The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/11770042/A-fat-tax-is-not-the-way-to-fight-obesity.html