We seem to be in the midst of a national obsession with obesity. Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is about some of the surprising contributors, and possible economic solutions, to the problem. (Download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript.)
One suspected contributor to obesity, for instance, is the drastic decline in smoking in recent years. It’s great news that fewer people smoke but, according to Vanderbilt economist Kip Viscusi, people who quit smoking tend to gain weight. Read More »
Norway is in the midst of a butter shortage. Yes, butter.
There are a few explanations: low-carb diets have been popular, and the summer of 2011 wasn’t ideal for dairy. Olav Mellingsater for CNN writes:
A rainy summer reduced the quality of animal feed, decreasing milk production in Norway this year by 20 million liters (5.3 million gallons) compared with the same period last year, the cooperative said.
Stores are currently rationing butter sales, and some entrepreneurial spirits are selling butter online at 30 times the normal cost. There are also some gray market characters emerging from the crisis. CNN reports:
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Authorities detained a Russian citizen Monday who they said was trying to smuggle 90 kilograms (200 pounds) of butter from Germany into Norway. Food safety authorities then warned people not to buy butter from strangers, Norway’s TV2 reported.
The Danish policymakers who implemented the world’s first “fat tax” last week are remarkable not for their directness in addressing the growing Western challenge of obesity, but for their indifference to the plight of the poor, their deference to political correctness at the cost of economic efficiency, and their willingness to punish certain segments of society.
The Danes may have been the first, but headlines throughout the western world assessed the likelihood of other countries to follow, including this one. A fat tax in the U.S. (or the U.K. for that matter) would add to the growing thicket of regulations across local and federal jurisdictions intended to address weight gain and the external costs that obesity imposes on society— both through higher private insurance premiums and ballooning government outlays for the uninsured.
Whether the tax will improve health outcomes is an empirical question that won’t be answered for several years or more. Read More »
This week, Denmark begins a large-scale incentives trial of sorts by becoming the first country to impose a nationwide fat tax. From now on, foods in Denmark with saturated fat content above 2.3% will be taxed 16 Danish kroner ($2.87) per kilogram of saturated fat; which works out to a tax of about $1.28 per pound of saturated fat. The tax was reportedly preceded by weeks of Danes stocking up on items like butter, red meat and pizza.
The issue of taxing fatty or sugary foods (and more broadly, the effectiveness of behavioral nudges) has been a topic of repeated discussion on this blog. James McWilliams posted last December on studies which indicate that while taxing sugary sodas reduces consumption, others have shown soda taxes to be ineffective at reducing obesity rates. Proof, McWilliams argues, that taxing specific food items is ultimately ineffective, since consumers can simply substitute sugar from other non-soda sources. Read More »