Should the U.S. adopt a fat tax?
内容提要:This puts kids at a premature risk for strokes, heart disease, and diabetes — which already place a $190 billion strain on health-care spending.

Two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese, and the Centers for Disease Control predict that nearly half will be obese by 2030. Obesity rates in children have more than tripled in the past three decades, to the point wherethe arteries of a typical obese child are as thick and stiff as that of a healthy 45-year-old. This puts kids at a premature risk for strokes, heart disease, and diabetes — which already place a $190 billion strain on health-care spending.

Of course, it's no secret that Americans are addicted to junk food. And according toMichael Moss, author of the recent New York Times Magazine cover story "TheExtraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food," this addiction will only deepen as thefood industry continues to find new ways to "get people hooked on foods that are convenient and inexpensive."

Diet is hardly the only factor behind America's obesity epidemic. Still, eating a healthier diet rich in fruits and vegetables is one of the most effective ways toprevent unnecessary weight gain.

But how do make people eat healthier? Maybe by levying a "fat tax" on unhealthy foods and beverages.

"Economists generally agree that government intervention, including taxation, is justified when the market fails to provide the optimum amount of a good for society's well-being," says Oliver Mytton, co-author of a recent report in the British Medical Journal that reviewed nearly 30 international studies to determine the effect that food taxes have on populations.

The report found that in the U.S., a 20 percent tax on sugary beverages would reduce obesity levels by 3.5 percent — from 33.5 percent to 30 percent among adults. It's a simple idea: If things are expensive enough, the cost becomes prohibitive enough that some people won't buy them. Similar findings published in Archives of Internal Medicine estimate that an 18 percent tax on pizza and soda would cause the average American to lose 5 pounds per year. "Our findings suggest that national, state, or local policies to alter the price of less healthful foods and beverages may be one possible mechanism for steering U.S. adults toward a more healthful diet," theresearchers conclude.

Many food tax advocates also point to the success of other government-mandated measures to improve public health. New York's trans fat ban, for instance, helped decreased the number of restaurants cooking with trans fat from 50 percent to less than 2 percent.

The cigarette tax could serve as a model for a tax on obesity-causing foods. Following the implementation of a steep cigarette tax in the late 1990s (effectivelyraising the cost of cigarettes by 50 percent), smoking rates plummeted sharply. Today, less than 20 percent of Americans are smokers — a stark departure from smoking's peak in the 1960s, when 42 percent of Americans smoked regularly. Of course, there are loads of factors that contributed to that decline — but thecigarette tax is surely one of them.

Now, not everyone is sold on a fat tax. Critics argue that it's an overreach of government power. "I don't think government should be picking winners and losers with respect to people's diets," said Nevada GOP lawmaker Pat Hickey, in response to a recent proposal for an additional tax on fast food.

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