Denmark Levies the World's First Nationwide Fat Tax


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.

Research also indicates that taxes on specific types of fatty foods need to be quite high before impacting our behavior. For example, the results of this 2007 study show that a 10% tax on dairy fat reduces fat consumption by less than one percentage point. Steve Sexton‘s post last month deriding the notion of mandated calorie counts fired up a lot of our readers. In it, he points to this Stanford study (ungated version here) that shows New York City’s calorie-count law to be fairly ineffective at reducing calorie consumption, at least when it comes to NYC Starbucks.

This all underpins what’s so interesting about the Denmark tax: instead of taxing a particular product, it casts a wide net around all saturated fats. Most importantly, it gets straight to the point: rather than gently reminding people of what they should (or shouldn’t) eat, it is a real fat tax.

But, why Denmark? The country’s obesity rate of 10% is traditionally below the average for OECD countries. Apparently, the Danish government isn’t satisfied with the life expectancy of its population, currently 78 years. A primary goal of the tax, reportedly, is to push that to 81. Which of course may carry its own economic ramifications.


Sarah Kliff's math is off by quite a bit- she did the conversion the wrong way around. The correct figure is $1.30 per pound of saturated fat. Google can do this calculation quite easily: query "$2.87/kg in $/lb".

Matthew Philips

amended, thanks for the catch guys


That math seems off...


"taxing specific food items is ultimately ineffective, since consumers can simply substitute sugar from other non-soda sources"

I don't know if I buy this. When I buy soda it's because I specifically want a soda.

If the cost of a 20oz Coke at the checkout line went from $1.50 to $2.50, I probably wouldn't buy it, and would save myself something like 240 calories. I wouldn't instead pick up a bag of chips or candy.


I see this less as a stick for consumers than as an incentive for producers: get the saturated fat below 2.3% and you have a price advantage.

Ahmed Zghari

This is an old story with new cloth.

In the 1960s The Seven Countries Study highlighted that saturated fat was a major cause of heart attacks. The world went low fat mad and in the ensuing mayhem carbohydrates consumption went up and caused the obesity crisis Denmark is trying to solve now, with a reduction in fat.

People that keep doing the same thing but expect a different result are often labelled insane. And those Great Danes are barking.


This is the biggest problem with the saturated fat tax. The evidence simply doesn't support the hypothesis that saturated fat causes [obesity, heart disease, diabetes]. For anyone who is scientific-minded and who still believes that it does, or that the formula "cut calories and exercise" is a solution to obesity, I encourage you to read Gary Taubes' book "Good Calories Bad Calories," which is essentially an extended literature review on human diet.


$2.87 per kg of saturated fat, who cares? That's about 3 cents per steak. (Meat) prices differ more from store to store.

So how is a butcher supposed to know the saturated fat contents of each individually cut piece of meat? I think there trying to create more jobs for accountants rather than prevent obesity. Think of the butcher's tax returns. Does he also has to pay the farmer or is it just a consumers tax? Lean-cows become more desirable, upside down world.

On the upside, we pretty much all hate paying tax and being reminded when buying something with more than 2,3% saturated fat (pizza, steak, mayonnaise anyone?) that not only is it unhealthy (which you already know, except for Americans) but that you're also paying more than one type of tax (VAT and this saturated fat tax). If that doesn't take away your appetite ....... ... .. .. .. it just turns out to be a ridicules tax.


I deeply apologize, after reading my own post I noticed I wrote there instead of they are (they're)

Mike B

Specific foods aren't the problem, its the quality consumed that is. If I go out and eat pounds and pounds of fat free bread and pasts I'll blow up like a balloon just the same as if I were eating lots of butter. Now certain fats can impact heart health specifically, but its total calories consumed that define one's waistline.

A better solution would be to simply charge fat people higher taxes/premiums as part of whatever national healthcare system they use in Denmark.


Mike I think you're right twice, however, you stated it as if it was one point. Quality of consumed product is, in my opinion, equally important but I think you meant to say quantity based on the next sentence.

Mike B

Thanks for catching that.


How ironic, then, that one of the healthiest fats you can eat is not only saturated, but a trans-fat:


Instead of punishing bad eating why not reward fit people with tax incentives and tax breaks since they will typically be less strain on government systems.

Imad Qureshi

Fit people are getting a tax break by not buying these items.

Andreas Moser

Will Danish women become even more sexy?

David Evans

I presume the Danish government introduced this tax because of the perceived threat that saturated fat causes both obesity and heart disease.

Science shows that both of these premises are false. The authors of a study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings 2003;78:1331-1336 conclude a high saturated fat diet results in weight loss after 6 weeks without adverse effects on serum lipid levels, and further weight loss with a lipid-neutral effect may persist for up to 52 weeks.

Another study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology (1997) 145 (10): 876-887 found that men who consumed the most saturated fats had a 27% decrease in coronary death and an 13% decrease in major coronary events compared to those men that consumed the least.

These are just 2 studies. However the scientific literature shows many, many examples where saturated fat has in fact many beneficial effects on human health.

I urge people to do their own research and come to their own conclusions with regards to the effects of saturated fat on health. Search my website ( for the results of hundreds of studies and you will be surprised at what the scientific literature actually says.