UBC students make case for “fat tax”

“Fat people are a huge cost to society.”

So goes the opening line of a paper prepared by four UBC students for an economics course.

While stating that they intended to make this politically incorrect pun, authors Aaron Kwok, Patrick Crawford, Matt Morley, and Dennis Wong also pointed out that they are trying to address what they see as a big problem these days: obesity.

According to the authors, people can be influenced to make healthy choices through one policy: a fat tax.

No, this tax isn’t meant to collect levies based on people’s weight or other measurements of obesity.

Much like taxes on alcohol and tobacco, two products that are proven to have adverse effects, a fat tax would cover food items that are considered unhealthy.

“This is not a proposal against fat people,” Kwok told the Straight in a recent phone interview. “This is an incentive for people to think about their choices, and say, ‘If you decide to have a consistent diet of unhealthy food, you have a cost to everyone else—to you, to me, to taxpayers who fund our health care system.’”

In the paper, the four students note that according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, one in four Canadians is now obese. That is double the obesity rate in 1981.

They also wrote that obesity is a $7.1-billion burden on the economy. That includes health and medical costs for conditions related to obesity.

“The first, and very important decision that must be made in the intervention process is determining which aspect of poor quality food is the best factor to attach the tax to, whether it be saturated fats, sugars, calorie counts or other factors of the food,” the students wrote. “The approach and method of implementation of a ‘fat tax’ would be similar regardless of the ingredient we choose to combat, but scope and level of the tax would depend on the ingredient chosen.”

Comments (19) Add New Comment
R U Kiddingme
Bah. People have the right to commit suicide. Ergo, they have the right to be fat.
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Hobo
There will be a prohibition on street pizza! People will have to order their poutine through slit doors in back alleyways! On the hundred block of east Hastings, shadowy types will whisper to you, "Ketchup chips... Mr. Big.... McDonald's..." instead of "Rock.... powder.... down..."
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RP
Here we go. This instrusive nanny-state idiocy is likely inevitable - I was just hoping it would be after I'm dead. I better double up on the burgers.
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Gentleman Jack
How about a tax on meddlesome Humanities Majors?
Economics is not a Science; it is an Art...and apparently not a very enjoyable one at that.
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Doctor
The afflluent comprise a far greater burden on society. They burn far more carbon (all those countless gardeners and their leaf-blowers, all those flights to Hawaii and Heli-skiing in the Rockies, all those interior desecrator appointments, and manicure appointments and yoga classes), they waste far more clothing, food and consumer objects, they drink too much and consume too many drugs and , one suspects, they are often corpulent themselves. The affluent make too much noise and take up too much space. I say we need to tax the rich.
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izzy
like the intention, but overeating is as much a problem with obesity as the foods themselves. yeah, its harder to become obese from celery sticks, but usually people who eat uncontrollably to such a degree wont mind shelling out more money for those kind of foods, while its simply a burden to the rest of the population. it's just not a real fix for the problem you're focusing on
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Corporate Drones Wage Slaves
Tax the corporations make em pay instead of letting them have off shore subsidiaries, bank accounts & shell companies.

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You
"wont mind shelling out more money for those kind of foods"

That's the point. It may deter them, but it probably won't. But in the latter case they help pay the taxes to cover the costs of their own health care.
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hanta
sounds like a good idea, if you are suicidal and fat as refered to by Kiddingme, have at it, but if you are overwieght and not suicidal this could help guide you to a better and healthier diet. You would still be free to make your choices. "you sleep in the bed you make" and don't complain if its not comfortable.
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milkbone
The majority of "fat" people would enjoy life more if they were healthier. Yes there are some who are happy whatever their weight, some who are actually quite healthy in larger bodies, and some who have medical issues.

The best answer to the obesity crisis is creating better resources for citizens to live healthier lives. The government would save a lot of money in the long run by promoting healthy lifestyles. It is also key that we be giving children the tools in school which will allow them to live happy and healthy lives.

Some things the government could promote/subsidize/create include healthy cooking/eating, forms of exercise, consultation with medical professionals, and creating community discussion around the issue.
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R U Kiddingme
My comment is misleading, I am not promoting suicide. I am saying that unhealthy choices are allowable in a free society. I am equating potato chips to NASCAR as far as risks to life go. Obviously the law is only talking about taxing, rather than disallowing, and perhaps this is a fundamental difference.
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Supporters anyone?
So which party is going to implement the fat tax; conservatives, liberals, or NDP? These Economic Students are too idealistic in my opinion. You think you can just tax stuff and walk away unscathed even if its for the better good? Did they not see what happened when the Liberal introduce HST into BC?

They are in fact way too idealistic and out of touch with reality. Your hurting the poor/middle class even more at this crucial time and destroying jobs that people are barely holding on.

Taxing the way outta of this recession and problem is clearly a disastrous route. Its like throwing money and more money till the problem is fixed and believe me that is not the solution.
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Ethan
Why not? We tax alcohol and cigarettes [in theory] to offset the health care costs associated with indulging in these vices. No one is advocating banning unhealthy food, but instead looking to relieve the average citizen from the fiscal burden of dealing with the health consequences of such diets. To further this idea, offering tax credit incentives for healthy behaviour (rec centre memberships, bicycle purchases, etc) could be financially sustained by the revenue accrued from such "junk food" taxes.

I suspect most of the people objecting to this are sitting at Burger King right now.
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Fatty Fat-Ass
I fully endorse this ... why is it easier to track down junk food (chips, pop, etc) anywhere at anytime, but not something healthy? And when you do, it's always way more expensive?!

In the same light, some provisions should be made to make healthier food cheaper & more accesible ... only fair.
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davy jones
and i bet these folks all drive cars and contribute to global warming traffic jams and strip mining, so thier opinion don't count for crap
i ride a bicycle and eat ten chocolate bars a bar/ thats chocaolte not candy and i got a beautiful body, jelous, have i destroyed your stats??
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GOT
ideas like this are so full of holes it makes me wish there was a stupidity tax...OK: who defines 'fat' for starters? And knowing what a bunch of grasping bastards most business people are, if they have to add a 'fat tax' to unhealthy foods, what's to prevent them from upping the prices on everything just to screw healthy people at the same time - not just 'large' people who might want to forsake that super-sized burger for a nice salad? We should all know by now that any tax increase in the retail sector immediately results in price increases right across the board to 'offset' business costs...nobody gains anything in the end except business people - notice this was put together by Economics students. Nuff said.
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Birdy
re: "To further this idea, offering tax credit incentives for healthy behaviour "

Well here's a batshit crazy idea for you:
The incentive for "healthy behavior" could be that you don't have to pay for medical services you don't use.
The disincentive for "unhealthy behavior" could be that you have to pay for medical services you do use.

But that would be an evil capitalist tyranny right?
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HumanBe-ing
Maybe you could consider just minding your own business. Concentrate on spending less time being critical and spend more time accepting those who are different than you. You don't have to agree with them, just accept them. Simply think less and enjoy life more. The world won't fall apart if you stop trying to micro-manage it.
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Goldorak
doctor wants to tax the rich... as if this was not happening: last time I checked the top 25% paid for 80% of the benefits of the remaining 75%...
Wanna help Canada? Become a high bracket taxpayer yourself, doctor, so for a change we get to enjoy the benefit you'll provide.
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