Should Soda And Junk Food Have A Luxury Tax?


We spend so much time thinking and talking about the need to improve our health and our fitness, don’t we? And hopefully some additional time is invested in actually doing something about it! Whether you’re a daily gym rat, an outdoor enthusiast, or a stressed professional or busy student or parent snatching the occasional workout, chances are your fitness is important to you. You wouldn’t be here if it weren’t. And the same rule applies to your nutritional choices, doesn’t it? Sure, you might indulge from time to time in something that you know to be unhealthy but for the most part you’re happy and willing to spend the extra time and money on smart food choices and food preparation.

And it all adds up, doesn’t it? Organic food, gym or club dues, personal training fees, exercise gear, time and money spent researching the latest trends and news, good quality supplements. But it’s not as though you ever seriously question whether it’s worth it. Right? Because what’s the alternative? It’s not as though fast food or takeaway comes cheap. And I’m certain you could find somewhere else to send the funds that you use on every other aspect of your health, but at what price? If you’re lucky, all it will be is increased doctor’s visits and medical bills now, and the risk of serious chronic illness later in life. Not to mention an overall reduced quality of life. I made my choice years ago – I’d rather invest the money now and live my life the way I want it to be; feel the way I want to feel, than struggle along with low energy and poor health and then be forced to fork it over for health-care down the track.

The Truth Is That You’ll Pay For Healthcare Whether You Like It Or Not

Wherever you sit as you read this, I’m guessing you’ve heard about the rising costs of health-care to your nation. In Australia, for example, obesity is estimated to cost taxpayers 1.5 billion per year – a number that experts predict will continue to increase. In America, obesity related health-care costs a whopping $147 billion per year and subsidies for federal health reform are expected to sum up at around $1 trillion over the next decade.

Fortunately, the wellness industry is now growing faster than the sickness industry. Paul Zane Pilzner, world-renowned as an economic expert and leading forecaster of economic trends, predicts that the wellness industry will be worth $1 trillion per year a decade from now. I’d say that’s pretty amazing for an industry that didn’t even really exist until quite recently.

But it’s still not enough, is it?

Look around you. You only have to walk past a children’s playground at snack time to know that the right nutritional wisdom is not being passed on. That’s if there are any kids outdoors at all rather than glued to their PS3s, of course. Take a stroll past a high school and you’ll see where these childhood habits are leading. And before you know it you’ve got another generation of overweight or obese, unhealthy and unhappy adults who are genuinely addicted to their sugar-dense, low-nutrient junk food diets.

The question, of course, is not whether something needs to be done, but what it is that should be done.

The Great Soda-Tax Debate

At the moment there is quite the debate going on over whether an additional tax should be imposed on soda drinks. In the US, Congress has seen a proposal for a tax on non-diet sodas and high-calorie fruit drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks and ready-to-drink teas, and the proposal has the backing of the President as something “worth exploring”. In Australia, we’ve taken things a step further. The start of this month saw the Government’s preventative health taskforce release a proposal to phase out junk food advertising at certain times, increase the cost of cigarettes to over $20 per packet, and hit soft drinks (which already attract GST) and certain types of alcohol with a higher tax. The US proposal comes with an expert prediction that the tax could generate an easy $16 billion per year in revenue, and reduce soda consumption by as much as 13%.

There’s no question that sodas and soft drinks have been proven to affect the growing rate of overweight and obesity. Check out this brief video to learn the full story, gain an insight into what the proposed tax could be used towards, and learn what both sides of this controversial story have to say for themselves.

Have Your Say

So what do you think? Is it the government’s role to play nutritional arbitrator? To use increased prices as a means of telling us what we should or shouldn’t be eating? Aren’t we each responsible for ourselves and for our own dietary and health choices? Or does our nation’s indisputably poor ability to make healthy choices and pass on correct nutritional wisdom to our children mean that we deserve this or some other equally controversial recompense?


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8 responses to “Should Soda And Junk Food Have A Luxury Tax?”

  1. Emma Jones says:

    I dont think the goverment should be getting involved i think parents should educate children on what to eat and to encourage more exercise, its all playstations and internet these days for kids and no getting out in the fresh air 🙂

  2. Carla says:

    I don’t think taxing it would change people’s behavior but, but the extra money for healthcare is useful. If cigarettes are taxed why not tax something else that’s unhealthy also?

  3. NotAPundit says:

    Once the US attempts to “sin tax” junk food is put into context, I think it’s pretty obviously a bad idea. Sin taxes never work — promoting any social agenda through tax law is just a bad idea. Also, the government isn’t all that good at figuring out what’s healthy, let alone promoting it.

    The US (and many of her states) just love excise (from the Latin meaning “cut out”) taxes. What happens is that these taxes set up a situation where the government becomes accustomed to receiving revenue from something they claimed to want eliminated. We put huge sin taxes on gasoline, for example. As a result of that and other market pressures, people began using less — they carpool, buy more fuel efficient vehicles, etc. Now, the government is looking to implement a mileage-based tax, because they feel the need to make up for declining gas tax revenue. The goal is no longer to make people use less and pollute less, but to generate tax money.

    Please look at all the ridiculous ideas about healthy eating that are popularly accepted, including here in the US, and ask yourself if you should be able to make your own food choices or not. Look at existing government nutrition programs, such as WIC and the school cafeteria regulations. Both, in the name of “healthy eating” have created some pretty terrible diets, full of over-processed preservative-filled garbage with only nominal nutritional value.

    Government-regulated gym classes have not done anything to curb obesity (as a matter of fact, they are a large part of the reason I didn’t start exercising until my college years). Government regulated nutrition programs haven’t helped either. Why on earth would we want to create more government control while simultaneously giving the government a huge financial incentive to keep the foods they tax popular?

    I’ll also note that no one in the US has suggested ending corn subsidies that made high fructose corn syrup the ubiquitous ingredient it is. Why? Because the Iowa caucus, controlled largely by Iowa corn-growing interests, has a massive, often decisive impact, on the primaries (the first stage of the US presidential election). Shouldn’t science be determining our health choices, not politics?


  4. Steph says:

    although i completely agree that governments shouldn’t be concerning themselves with what people should or should not do regarding their health, i think the issue is that governments are the ones who end up paying the bills for health issues like cancer and diabetes that have come as a result of smoking or poor diet etc. So considering that it is tax-payer money that will pay such medical bills, I think it is only fair to put taxes on these things. if the tax does not deter, at least the money will go towards paying the medical costs.

  5. Kat says:

    Update – only 7% of Americans think that soda should be taxed according to this poll …

    Loving the comments guys, keep them coming.

    @NotaPundit – excellent comment; very well written. You’re right, of course, science (not politics) should determine our health choices. I guess the only catch there is this – who ‘creates’ the science. Given that a vast majority of scientists are fully funded … one has to wonder where the vested interest lays off and the truth takes over. The (until recently) cleverly misinterpreted Ancel Keys study of the 1950’s is a perfect example.

  6. Otto Voss says:

    Hi, I come from Mexico, the nation that has the 2nd place in obesity rates in the world, just after the United States. This will only worsen, seeing the trends that in our children, we have a rate of around 30% of obese kids.
    Mexico, as you know, is a developing country, and cheap food is sometimes the only alternative that many people have.
    That been said, there are a real debate on whether the Government should tax Sodas and poor nutrition food like potato chips and cookies. But, in my opinion, the government should focus more in create nutritious consciousness on the population that consume this kind of food in a regular basis. One way to go is to regulate advertizing. But, taxing food, that on itself is not bad, but we make it bad because we don’t know how and how many to eat.
    I think this is an educational problem more that a ‘set an example’ problem.
    Teach how to eat to the people, and let them enjoy our tacos with a soda from time to time. What I want to say is that, taxing junk food does not solve the main problem: PEOPLE DOES NOT KNOW HOW TO EAT HEALTHY. A juice is also a bad choice food for the amount of sugar that it has. Why not teach that drinking juice is not a better option than to eat an Orange, because it has a lot of fiber and other nutrients.
    I’m ovo-lacto-vegetarian, training for marathons, but I love to eat chips and a diet soda when I’m watching a movie. I don’t want the government to take more of my money in taxes for a time to time indulgent.

  7. NotAPundit says:

    @Steph — I can see where you are going if you are from a nation with a nationalized health care system. I’m not (and I really hope the current administration fails at its plans for socialized medicine). Health insurance companies already charge us more or less for coverage based on personal habits. So, I pay for my health choices and everyone else pays for theirs.

    @Kat — Certainly the validity in the science in question is an issue, but at least if one body isn’t making health decisions for an entire nation, we each have the chance to make better decisions. If we screw up, well, enough people will always be right for the species to carry on without us. 😉

  8. Kat says:

    @ Otto – you’ve hit the nail on the head there – there definitely does need to be more education about healthy eating. Particularly in schools. My only problem with this is that I fear the nutritional education any government would introduce would deviate wildly from what actually constitutes correct nutrition.

    @ NotaPundit – very pragmatic final point!