Regulating Our Obesity Epidemic - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Regulating Our Obesity Epidemic

Federal health officials have proclaimed a “red alert” national health crisis. We are too fat. Our diets are unhealthy. We overdose on fatty fast food. We are a nation plagued by obesity.

A number of solutions to our overweight crisis have been proposed. Medical researchers say that broad national publicity and public education about the adverse health effects of donuts and french fries will change Americans’ eating habits. I don’t think so. Fatty, salty, and cholesterol laden foods simply taste too good to give up.

Some lawyers think that expensive lawsuits against fast food restaurants will force these chains to rethink their menus and offer heart-healthy foods to their customers. But, to paraphrase a federal judge in New York who dismissed the notorious obesity suit against McDonald’s: no one forced these overweight teens to eat double bacon cheeseburgers with king size orders of fries. Instead of looking for someone to blame for being grossly overweight, they should take a look in the mirror and take responsibility for their own actions.

A few legislators have suggested that packaging for all fast foods, potato chips, and pastries should carry mandatory bold warning labels. “Warning: consumption of this fatty, cholesterol and sodium saturated product could cause heart disease, strokes, or cancer.” But critics of the labeling proposal point out that similar warning labels on tobacco products have had little or no impact on the smoking habits of Americans. Warning labels alone simply will not deter Americans from wolfing down those bargain double orders of greasy burgers and fries.

Some food companies are experimenting with major changes in their product lines. They are voluntarily shifting to more heart healthy, cholesterol free, and reduced fat foods. Some say these programs are doomed to failure. The tastes of most Americans are hard-wired to “fatty and salty.” Our fast food eating habits simply are too deeply ingrained. If the new food offerings are good for consumers’ health, but don’t taste good, Americans won’t eat them. Taste, not health, drives the American food industry.

None of these ideas will slim Americans down to size. But, the solution to our obesity crisis may lie in the creative use of federal tax policy featuring a new cholesterol tax. Let me explain.

The use of tax policy to influence human behavior in our society is nothing new. The charitable contribution deduction fuels philanthropy and the mortgage interest deduction encourages homeownership. Sin taxes have been used for years as a relatively non-controversial source of revenue on the theory that they will also deter excessive smoking, drinking, and gambling (they have been enormously successful at filling government coffers, but, for the most part, have failed to discourage unhealthy behavior). The list goes on and on. Taxes and tax breaks have shaped the way we live. Exemptions, deductions, and credits that influence our choices in life.

So, maybe we should consider using tax policy to encourage healthy behavior and reduce mounting health care costs. After all, the bottom-line cost of health care in this country depends in large measure on the way we live our lives. Self-destructive, high-risk, unhealthy behavior by some will make health care more expensive for all. Here are some examples of new federal policies and programs we might consider to address this crisis:

• Impose a federal excise tax on all food products high in fat and/or cholesterol.

• Make the familiar federal Recommended Daily Allowances mandatory.

• Establish a Federal Health and Wellness Police that would have a broad mandate to monitor and police the eating and drinking habits of all Americans. The FHWP would randomly set up roadblocks outside supermarkets to search grocery bags for excessive amounts of doughnuts, ice cream, and Twinkies.

• Grocery and restaurant owners would be audited regularly by the FHWP for their compliance with the federal Dietary Standards Act providing for limited consumption of beef, eggs, and pastries, and mandatory portions of spinach and broccoli.

• All taxpayers would be required to complete and file with IRS the annual Health and Fitness Return (the HF-1) for each member of the family. The HF-1 would become part of the household’s federal tax return and would impose additional taxes based upon the health and fitness of each family member. The Health and Fitness tax revenues would be earmarked in a special trust fund to support federal health care programs.

Among the features of the HF-1 form would be the following:

• A special $600 exemption for all families consuming 20 pounds of tofu and/or bean curd per family member per year.

• A $1,000 exemption for each taxpayer whose between meal snacks consist entirely of mineral water and rice cakes.

• A special deduction for all certified “organic” food consumed during the tax year and all milk products free of bovine growth hormones.

• An excise tax of 100 percent on all alcoholic beverages consumed in excess of the allowable one 2 oz. drink per month.

• A $100 tax penalty for each pack of cigarettes or tin of smokeless tobacco declared on the HF-1.

• A “junk food” surcharge tax on all products that are high in fat and cholesterol content, including potato chips (and dip), Fritos, Twinkies, Ho-Ho’s, and Hostess cupcakes.

• A tax credit for enrollment and daily use of a health club membership or the purchase of home exercise equipment.

These new taxes probably won’t change our dietary habits overnight. Few taxpayers are likely to tolerate tofu and broccoli dinners just to get a tax write off. But someday these tax loopholes may yield longer and healthier lives for all Americans. In the meantime, the tax penalties, excises, and surcharges just might pay for Obamacare, Medicare, prescription drugs for seniors, and those other genius federal health care programs that may be coming down the road from our “nanny-state.

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