Price per pound going up

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

May 2011

"If you want less of something, put a tax on it." Maybe if every American had to step on the scale every April 15th and pay a surtax for every pound over what the Fat Czar decided was appropriate we'd have a budget surplus!

The idea would never fly. Two thirds of voters would have to pay something and no administration is likely to antagonize an enormous (sorry for the pun) voting bloc. Persons who are overweight do pay more for lots of things and food is only the most obvious one. Lower gas mileage, prescription medicine and in the end, a casket that can accommodate their bulk. Except for the last, those payments don't come due on one specific day, like our taxes do. Otherwise the nation's fitness centers and walking paths would be filled to overflowing.

Healthcare bean-counters tell us that obesity costs this nation more than 100 billion dollars a year. Its fellow-traveler, type 2 diabetes, costs almost twice that much. Those figures might be too conservative. In California alone, the California Center for Public Health Advocacy estimated that overweight, obesity and physical inactivity cost that state more than $41 billion — and that was based on data from 2006.

These latest surveys are not reassuring. In fact, obesity and type 2 diabetes continue not only their upward climb but their downward reach into childhood. Newly-recognized complications of childhood overweight such as liver and kidney disease add to the financial burden.

Some states have proposed placing a tax on sugared beverages in the hope that children will benefit the most from that move. Statisticians argue that for each serving of sugared beverage that a child consumes in a day he or she raises the risk of becoming obese by 60 percent.

Aside from the legal tangle that would result from placing a tax so selectively, the reasons for our national plague of obesity go far beyond soft drinks. The soda tax would soon be followed by a tax on ice cream, donuts, pasta and beer. Not likely.

Taxing refined flour and sugar at the wholesale level might be easier, especially if the revenue were used to subsidize fruits and vegetables, also at the wholesale level. Those flour and sugar taxes might cover the cost of bike paths and neighborhood fitness centers or even pay for the salaries of more physical education teachers.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.