Junk Food Tax

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Updated: Feb 24, 2019
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Junk Food Tax essay

Today, Many people in the United States suffer from obesity, cardiac diseases, and diabetes. These health conditions are among many others caused by the high consumption of junk food in the United States. Since healthy food is less accessible and more expensive, Americans consume more and more junk food. The consumption of junk food in the United States has led to increased rates of obesity, heart disease, and other chronic health conditions therefore the government should impose a “”sin tax”” on junk food on a federal level to make healthy food more affordable.

A sin tax is a tax placed on a harmful or unhealthy product to influence a consumer’s decision on purchasing the product. The first sin tax was imposed on the sale of whiskey in 1791 to help pay off the national debt of the Revolutionary War (Holmes 149). A sin tax serves the purpose of not just limiting the use of a product, but also brings in money to solve problems. A sin tax on junk food would help limit the purchase of junk food and help fund for healthier alternatives.

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An effective sin tax imposed is the one for tobacco, which has helped reduce the purchase of cigarettes. Research conducted by Ball State University economist Erik Nesson and colleagues published in the Journal of Health Economics demonstrated that when cigarette prices rise, the number of people smoking falls (O’Connell). This research demonstrates the direct impact of a sin tax reducing tobacco consumption. Once people realized they couldn’t afford to indulge in this bad habit, they cut down on it. Implementing a tax towards foods that are unhealthy and regularly consumed would also help lower their purchase and consumption.

Food policies have shown to be an effective manner of limiting unhealthy food consumption. According to an economic analysis from the Journal of Nutrition, food policies have drawn lots of attention because “”the price of a calorie has been shown to be substantially cheaper when obtained from unhealthful, energy-dense foods, instead of from more healthful, less-dense foods”” (Powell and Chaloupka). Low nutrient foods higher in calories tend to be cheaper than those high in nutrients and low in calories. People consume more unhealthy foods because their low prices make this a more affordable option than spending extra money on low-calorie, nutrient rich food. Imposing food policies specifically on foods higher in calories helps people limit their consumption of unhealthy foods.

Although some places around the country have applied junk food taxes to certain foods, it still isn’t something found at a federal level. According to the Journal of Public Health, forty states have some sort of tax on applied to a junk food, but it varies by location and “”limits the potential impact of higher sales taxes for these products on reductions in consumption””. (Chriqui 244). This seems like a vast majority of the country, but the differences amongst location makes the effectiveness of this tax inconsistent. In order to combat the problem, the United States needs to implement a consistent nationwide tax. A federal tax imposed by the country’s government would be more effective than states independently attempting to fix the problem.

Fast food is consumed in large amounts in short periods of time by many Americans. On any given day, health statistician Cheryl Fryar reports that “”on any given day in the United States, an estimated 36.6% or approximately 84.8 million adults consume fast food,”” (Howard). Due to the accessibility and low cost of fast foods, it’s easier for people to consume it more often. If a food policy like the junk food tax was put in place, less people would consume fast foods so often.

Not only adults consume junk food often, but children tend to have a high junk food intake. In an online survey conducted by the Rudd Center 91% of 871 parents reported having purchased lunch or dinner from a fast food chain for their child (Howard). Obesity has flourished into a childhood epidemic as well, the latest statistics from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showing obesity rates have more than tripled over the last few decades (cdc.gov). The feasibility of accessing junk foods due to the low cost, leads to parents purchasing junk foods more often for their children. This contributes to the obesity epidemic, especially at such an early age.

Consumption of unhealthy foods has led to severe health problems for many Americans, including obesity. The obesity disease has grown into an epidemic that can eventually lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and even psychological problems (stanfordhealthcare.org). These health problems all link back to obesity, which is mainly caused by unhealthy eating. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, over 12.5 million Americans suffer from heart disease, which leads to over 500,000 deaths annually (Reily). Limiting access to junk food can help reduce these health problems problems, which are found in many Americans today.

Unhealthy eating is not just causing severe health problems, but it’s also a leading cause of death that affects the nation economically. According to a study the Rand Corporation in a Men’s Health survey, a surgeon general reports 300,000 Americans die young annually due to weight problems like obesity, which costs the United States more than $100 billion a year, greater than those who die due to issues related to smoking (Crowley 136). The poor eating habits of many Americans today has led to more deaths than smoking, and it costs the government great amounts of money to repair the damage.

Healthy food being overall more expensive than unhealthy foods has been a large contributor to the overall problem, A study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health showed that it costs about $1.50 more on a daily basis to eat healthier and ultimately $550 annually (Rao, Mayuree, et al). This extra cost can be a burden on many families and a barrier to healthy eating. Due to high costs of eating healthy, it’s a challenge to ensure everyone a healthy diet. The high prices of healthy eating compared to the low prices for junk food is contributes to the high consumption of junk food in the United States.

The promotion of junk food influences consumers to purchase more. The food industry spends $30 billion a year promoting foods, and only 2% of that includes healthy foods (Crowley 136). People are pushed to buy more junk food because advertisements promote food that is rich in flavor for low price, subconsciously unaware of the damage consuming it at consistent rate could have on them. The idea of eating for a low price is pushed onto people when purchasing food, so consumers choose to avoid spending high prices on healthier alternatives.

Unlike healthy food locations, which are scarce, junk food locations are more commonly found. Kelly Brownell, a psychology professor at Yale University, who first proposed a junk food tax back in the 1990s claims that access to fast food is easy because “”coke machines and fast-food restaurants are ubiquitous–but just try finding fresh fruit along the highway,”” (Crowley 136). Fast food machines and chains can be found in schools, public places, and even along the highway. The easily accessibility of fast food contributes to obesity and the lack of healthy nutrients in many Americans’ diets.

The money gained from a junk food tax can go towards improving the health of Americans. Kelly Brownell said a national tax would annually raise $1.5 billion per soft drink, $70 million per pound for candy, $54 million for chips, and others could bring in $190 million, which could all be used to “”subsidize more healthful foods and fund public-awareness campaigns”” (Leigh 13). The junk food tax would not just reduce the amount of junk food consumed, but even the smallest cent added on will make a big difference to the amount of money the government could raise. With the $100 billion lost a year due to deaths related to obesity, this is a start towards gaining back that money. The money could be used to subsidize the cost of healthy foods, raise awareness, and more importantly go towards the healthcare system to treat those who have been consuming the junk food (Reily). The great amounts of money which a sin tax on junk food will bring in will ultimately help cover the large costs health problems related to junk food cause.

Taxing junk food will also help people make better choices when eating. Health officials expect it to work similarly to the tobacco taxes which were implemented back in the 1980s. Following the enactment of Proposition 99 in 1988, the state of California saw the use of tobacco decline by 27% over the course of five years and some of the tax money went towards funding for anti-tobacco education (Leigh 13). Money has a great influence on people’s purchases. The similar evidence between the harm of junk food and tobacco shows that taxes have proven to be an effective approach for prevention (Sacks, G., et al.). Implementing a sin tax will help people take high costs into consideration and make better eating choices.

In January 2017, researchers at Tufts’ Friedman School, tested the effectiveness of a junk food tax in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They taxed junk foods by ten percent and lowered the prices of unhealthy foods to subsidize the gap in costs. The study showed that within the city, sales decreased and the tax helped bring in necessary revenue. However, sales outside of the city increased because in order to avoid the sales tax, people would go leave city limits to avoid the tax (Can Junk Food Taxes Improve Health?). Although the tax was effective for improvements within the city of Philadelphia, people still tried to buy junk food at low prices once they were outside city boundaries. Implementing a sales tax at a federal level would be more effective for reducing consumers’ unhealthy purchases.

The University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health conducted a study in the country of Chile, who has seen a high success rate in the use of a junk food tax. Chile had one of the highest consumptions of junk food in the world. Implementing an eighteen percent tax “”was associated with the largest reduction in household purchases of sodium, added sugar, saturated fat and high-calorie items,”” (sph.unc.edu).

Chile was able to reduce unhealthy purchases in households using a tax, but they plan to take things on step further in order to successfully combat obesity. They plan on using tax policies in order to promote healthier diets, and the money take in from taxes will be used to fund these resources (Rao, Mayuree, et al.). If the United States as a nation puts taxes in place, they can achieve results similar to those of Chile.

Some claim that a junk food tax isn’t a viable solution because it will hurt the poor more than the rich. Access Economics health expert Lynne Pelluzzo claims that “”low-income people who were not obese would suffer unduly as a result,”” (Cresswell). However, one of the ultimate goals of the junk food tax is to help subsidize lowered prices of healthier foods in due to the rise in junk food prices (Leigh). So all in all, the junk food tax would not negatively affect low income families, but rather would benefit them. The difference in rising prices of unhealthy foods would be covered by the lowered prices of healthy foods, which would be feasible due to the extra money brought in by the junk food tax.

Another claim is that the greatest issue is the type of food people are consuming. Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott says that the sin tax “”incorrectly assumed that the type of food consumed was the problem rather than the amount of food,”” (Cresswell). Although the type of food is a big contributing factor, the easy accessibility of unhealthy foods makes them easier to consume more often. Implementing food policies like the sin tax will help limit the amounts of unhealthy foods people are eating, which ultimately is the bigger problem.

A final claim made against the junk food tax is the price isn’t a determining factor when purchasing food. Pezzullo claims that “”analyses show demand for food is insensitive to price,”” (Cresswell). However, research conducted by health officials for the International Journal of Obesity show that adjustments in monetary values are an effective approach for prevention (Sacks, G., et al.). Consumers take price into great consideration when debating whether or not to buy a product. If a healthier item is at a lower price, they will most likely make the healthier choice. Demand for food is highly dependent on price, so rising prices for unhealthy foods and simultaneously lowering prices for healthy foods will lead to preventive measures against high consumption of junk food.

The taxing of a product should be dependent upon its nutritional value. Health economists suggest graduated, or scaled, taxes “”may be a promising method to guide consumers toward healthier products”” (Pomeranz 203). Rather than implement an extreme amount of taxes all at once, the government should scale junk food prices, taxing them based upon their nutritional value. Ultimately, this will help people stray away from foods of the highest cost, because they’re the most expensive and most unhealthy. Graduated taxes would help show a clear relationship between food and price, guiding people towards buying the most affordable, healthier food.

The government should attempt to make healthier foods more accessible and attainable for everyone. A good solution is the “”The Sustainability Plan”” in San Francisco. Endorsed by the local government, this plan calls for healthier alternatives in the area through taxes and through growing plants and encouraging healthy eating and is funded by taxes (Reiland 22). A plan in which the community gets involved in growing healthier alternatives themselves helps save money and makes people more aware of healthy eating. The government should implement a junk food tax to make people more aware and more involved in their health and spending.

The consumption of junk food in the United States has led to increased rates of obesity, heart disease, and other chronic health conditions therefore the government should impose a “”sin tax”” on junk food on a federal level to make healthy food more affordable. Unhealthy consumption is high and therefore causing many health problems. Implementing a junk food tax can help resolve these problems, as well as fund for alternatives and spread awareness. In order to combat these severe, fatal health issues and encourage healthy eating the government needs to impose a nationwide federal health tax.

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Junk Food Tax. (2019, Feb 24). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/junk-food-tax/