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What is a Fat Tax?

Niki Acker
Updated May 17, 2024
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A fat tax is a type of "vice tax" placed on foods high in empty calories in an attempt to encourage healthy eating habits. The revenues generated from the tax could be used to fund nutrition and anti-obesity programs and to subsidize the production of healthier foods. The fat tax was first suggested in the 1980s by Dr. Kelly D. Brownell, the director of The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale. The World Health Organization published a report advocating the fat tax in 2003.

The theory behind the fat tax is that the prices of foods have an effect on what people eat; much "junk food," from fast food chains to processed, packaged chips and snack cakes, is significantly cheaper than healthier alternatives. Therefore, making junk food expensive may make people less likely to buy it, especially if the fat tax is used to subsidize healthier foods and make them cheaper to the consumer. Similar "vice taxes" have been used to limit the consumption of alcohol and tobacco. The tax on tobacco can provide a useful model for the fat tax, as revenues are used to fund anti-tobacco advertisements and programs.

Opponents of the fat tax complain that it would allow the government to interfere too much in the personal choices of its citizens. There is also concern over how decisions would be made regarding which foods count as "healthy" or "unhealthy;" the fat tax is not as simple as taxing everything containing tobacco, for instance. Opponents are also wary of the additional bureaucracy that a fat tax may require.

Despite these concerns, many feel that the fat tax is among the most promising suggestions to deal with obesity, which has become a major public health concern in recent decades. The similar taxes on tobacco and alcohol have been successful. Proponents of the fat tax claim that the focus is on promoting a healthy diet and lifestyle, rather than on simply restricting what people consume.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Niki Acker
By Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a WiseGeek editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of interesting and unusual topics to gather ideas for her own articles. A graduate of UCLA with a double major in Linguistics and Anthropology, Niki's diverse academic background and curiosity make her well-suited to create engaging content for WiseGeekreaders. "
Discussion Comments
By anon51263 — On Nov 04, 2009

The fat tax would be regressive. Unhealthy foods would increase in price, while healthy foods would see a decrease. You all need to get your panties out of a bundle and understand both sides of an argument. Besides, your Big Mac and Mickey D's will still be there in the end. You might just have to hold back on supersizing your whole meal.

By anon40881 — On Aug 11, 2009

Why don't they just make healthy foods cheap instead of 4.00 for 3 pounds of apples? People eat like crap because it's what they can afford.

By anon39310 — On Jul 31, 2009

fat tax is just like tobacco and alcohol tax --- the poorer you are, the more likely that "fat" foods are what you can afford. Just like the man uses his child's food money to buy alcohol and tobacco, now the food that child has will be less and less because some of some idiotic control freaks wanting to tell us what to eat, when to eat, how to eat. The junk food may cost more but it will be bought anyway, thus leaving less money for vegs and fruits. Our country has lost its mind!

Niki Acker
Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a WiseGeek editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of...
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