Who's Ready for a Fat Tax?

From a Wall Street Journal article by Betsy McKay come these tantalizing facts (emphasis added):

The medical costs of treating obesity-related diseases may have soared as high as $147 billion in 2008, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday, as its new director set a fresh tone in favor of more aggressively attacking obesity.

The cost of treating obesity doubled over a decade, signaling the rising prevalence of excess weight and the toll it is taking on the health-care system. The medical costs of obesity were estimated to be $74 billion in 1998, according to a study by federal government researchers and RTI International, a nonprofit research institute in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

The findings were released at a conference on obesity held by the CDC in Washington, D.C. The prevalence of obesity rose 37 percent between 1998 and 2006, and medical costs climbed to about 9.1 percent of all U.S. medical costs, the researchers said.

Obese people spent 42 percent more than people of normal weight on medical costs in 2006, a difference of $1,429, the study found. Prescription drugs accounted for much of the increase.

We’ve blogged here variously in the past about the many possible contributing factors that have made it so much easier to get obese these days. That said, it is a self-inflicted condition any way you look at it.

When you read that 9.1 percent of all health-care costs are the result of eating and drinking too much, doesn’t it make you wonder if we should be more seriously talking about a fat tax rather than simply a fat-cat tax? The first dollars in fact could come from the six senators who are trying to reform health care:

On the agenda is the revamping of the American health care system, possibly the most complex legislation in modern history. But on the table, in a conference room where the bill is being hashed out by six senators, the snacks are anything but healthy.

Last week, there were chippers — chocolate-covered potato chips — described on a sign as “North Dakota Diet Food.” More often, there are Doritos, pretzels, Oreo cookies, and beef jerky: fuel to get through hours of talks on topics like the actuarial values of private insurance plans or the cost-sharing provisions of Medicare.


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  1. Walk On says:

    I am waiting for the taxes to be imposed on weight. I have been waiting since the beginning of the anti-smoker campaign, which blamed smokers for the high cost of healthcare. I have been waiting since the auto insurers managed to get every state in the nation to require insurance and the government started spending money to track and be certain that everyone had insurance. (Auto insurance is a tax on owning a vehicle that is above the taxes normally imposed on the ownership of a vehicle, and is paid to a private company. It is a tax, because without it, any auto owner faces fines and/or jail time.)
    The next reasonable course for these taxes is to start charging tax on people who are “overweight.” The sad reality is, there are many people in this world for whom the government standards for weight cannot apply. There are people who are not healthy at the “right” weight, but rather at 30 lbs over that weight. There are people with thyroid disorders who are not capable of managing their weight to the “standard” for their height. There are body builders and athletes who prove that muscle weighs more by having perfect measurements and perfect health, but weighing in at 50 or more lbs over the acceptable weight range for their height.
    If anyone didn’t see the tax on being overweight coming, they were blind. Another one that will be coming is a tax on cholesterol levels, as we know that heart disease is still a leading cause of death in the US, the treatment of which is terribly expensive.

    We have, dear Americans, fallen prey to insurance companies. Sadly, we did so willingly, and then when the insurers told us to turn against our fellows, we failed to recognize the undertones and have given rise to a new form of Nazi leadership. How long before it’s illegal to not report a neighbor for failing to maintain insurance on one thing or another?

    Welcome to the United Socialist Regime of America.

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  2. Mark S. says:

    If those same North Dakota Senators and all other politicians who vote on Agriculture bills would agree to drop all farm support, we would have much more expensive food and much healthier food, too. The healthier fruits and veggies growing in CA, FL etc receive relatively less farm support than the row crops (corn & soybeans) growing in the Midwest. The row crops are processed into fattening food ingredients such as corn syrup and vegetable oils. Taxing foods on the back end when the production is subsidized on the front end would be schizophrenic but sadly par for the course with regard to our tax system here in the US.

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  3. Joshua says:

    Or maybe there should be a fat subsidy so that people will die sooner and stop using precious medical resources? Or, here’s a crazy thought, we could let adults make, live with, and pay for their own lifestyle choices.

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  4. Chad Bergeron says:

    Unfortunately, with no standard for what defines obesity, I suspect some of the increase may be from a cultural shift that is more apt to define people as obese, and to include that as a factor in various diagnoses.

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  5. PsiCop says:

    Curiously, the tobacco settlement, arrived at in the 90s and still being paid by the tobacco companies, was supposed to compensate the states for expenditures on smokers and for smoking-reduction programs.

    But for the most part, the money is not being used for that.

    As I said … curious.

    I suspect that any “fat tax” will meet the same fate … it’ll just be thrown into the general funds of all the states and will not be spent on healthcare.

    I’d support this, if I had proof the “fat tax” would be used only for its intended purpose and for nothing else. But given how government operates, that proof is impossible to provide.

    So count me among those who are not going to be swindled by this.

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  6. Rick says:

    Joshua, doing that has cost other Americans dearly in rising Health Insurance costs….well that and greed.

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  7. Bram Fokke says:

    @1. There is a difference between a tax on fat food and a tax on obesity. Obesity is a serious health problem and using a fat tax to cross-subsidize healthy food might be an excellent way to try and solve that problem. Comparing it to socialism and/or Nazi leadership is ridiculous.

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  8. Richard B. says:

    Who needs a tax? We should stop the subsidies we are already paying that lead to carb-laden, fatty, sweetened foods through the farm bill.

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