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Food for thought on junk food taxes

August 24, 2009 |  2:52 pm
People love to talk, think, read and write about food. Ditto taxes. Put those two topics together, and you’re bound to get a dynamic conversation.

Junk And so it is with the idea of a junk food tax, described in Sunday’s paper as a possible way to discourage people from eating unhealthful foods. Though scientific studies and real-world data suggest they wouldn’t be terribly effective at modifying people’s behavior, public opinion polls indicate that support for the idea is growing.

Here’s a sampling of some of the more thoughtful comments we’ve received about the story.

Peter Ford, a teacher in Inglewood, objected that a junk food tax would do plenty of harm and very little (if any) good:

As a teacher in an urban school this tax would impact the people you're attempting to help; few of my students' parents shop at Whole Foods or Trader Joe's, and combining a tax on those things they eat too much plus our petroleum prices (and LAUSD looking to increase property taxes to pay for their construction bonds) and you make life more difficult for the people you allege you're trying to help.
  
People changing eating habits is a personal challenge that requires deep, intimate investment into the culture and habits of families and individuals; it's very difficult for any outside/government entity to impact that successfully.


Beverly Smith, an educator in Calgary, Canada, noted that this problem will remain unsolved as long as healthful foods – like fruits, vegetables and lean meats – cost more than their calorie-laden counterparts:

To tax those who have to eat cheap and fast is like hitting someone with crutches. First we must get cost of the good food down.

Gregory Lites, who owns an entertainment company in Westwood, thought it was wrong to judge the effectiveness of junk food taxes based solely on whether they discouraged people from eating fattening foods:

Raising taxes on soda and junk food across the board to help decrease obesity should be a secondary goal. The primary goal and the premise behind the tax hike should be that those that eat unhealthy (obesity) should contribute more towards health care than those that eat healthy. The revenue generated should therefore go directly to health care reform and/or national healthcare.

For Richard Platt, a retired Army officer in Universal City, Texas, a junk food tax is unnecessarily complicated. In his view, it’s no mystery why so many Americans are overweight, or what to do about it:

This is nonsense and requires a skill below a 4th grade course in mathematics. The solution is: Eat food low in calories and burn more calories than you consume and you will not gain weight. Or, in a more simple vernacular . . . eat less and exercise more and you will not gain weight. You should not interject the intrusive, gluttonous government into every private and personal decision.

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times
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