Thursday October 02, 2014

Food Fight: Sugar Tax - Obesity fix or misguided paternalism?

photo credit: <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/63723146@N08/7164573186/'>rockindave1</a>

photo credit: rockindave1

Listen 6:24

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, we can tax our way to better health.

Lesley James is a senior health policy analyst at the Foundation, and says a tax on sugary beverages would have a multi-pronged benefit.

"We know from Canadian research that implementing a tax would raise millions of dollars in revenue. And we're hoping this could be re-directed to fruits and vegetables and lowering the price of healthy food options."

But not everyone agrees a sugar tax is the way to go.

Canadian economist Eric Crampton says sugar taxes aren't all they're cracked up to be.

"The evidence is that they don't do much to reduce sugar consumption because people switch to other things." 

Mexico recently enacted a 10% tax on sweetened beverages. That country has the highest rate of obesity in the world, and lawmakers hope the tax will help shrink waistlines and health care problems.

Denmark enacted a similar tax on foods high in saturated fats, but later repealed the law after just a year. The failure of the so-called 'fat tax' prompted the Danish government to abandon its planned tax on foods with added sugar.

Crampton worries that targeted "sin taxes" on sugary and fatty foods are misguided paternalism in the guise of civic virtue, and cautions that proponents of the tax should check their assumptions.

"You look at the subset of things that people get riled up about for policy and wanting to tax and regulate behaviours, it's the kinds of things that poor people do."