Lifestyle Works

Should We Tax Unhealthy Food?

One of the most effective way to decrease the harms of smoking is to just increase the cost of cigarettes through tobacco taxes. An increase in the cost of cigarettes by only 10 percent could prevent millions of tobacco-related deaths.

So, what about taxing unhealthy food? Perhaps a national system of subsidies for good foods, as well as taxes for bad ones, could ‘facilitate more sensible dietary choices.’ Would it work? A systematic review of the present available evidence suggests such taxes on bad food, and subsidies for good food would in fact work.

It seems that the more unhealthy foods are taxed, the more consumption drops. To add a tax to decrease our exposure to saturated fats, could potentially save thousands of lives. Likewise, the more healthy food like fruits and vegetables are subsidized and their prices drop, the more consumption increases.

The question is asked, wouldn’t such  tax disproportionally affect the poor? Yes, it would affect them, in a positive way - just like cigarette taxes. The classic tobacco industry argument is that cigarette taxes are unfair and regressive, burdening the poor the most. The public health community’s response? ‘Cancer is unfair’ and ‘cancer is regressive’ disproportionately burdening the poor, such that a cigarette tax could result in the greatest health gains for the least well-off. They just don’t buy them.

South Africa’s largest health insurance company started offering up to 25 percent cash back on healthy food purchases to hundreds of thousands of households - up to $500.00USD a month. Why would an insurance company do that? Why would they give money away like that? Because it works. The healthy food cash-back program was associated with an increase in the consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as a decrease in foods high in added sugar, salt and fat, including processed meats and fast

Denmark was the first to introduce a tax on saturated fat, such as meat, dairy and eggs, but it only took the food industry about a year to squash it, demonstrating that corporate power is stronger than the public health system.

Denmark ended up canceling the fat tax and shelving the sugar tax, as the food company interests claimed too many jobs would be lost if people ate healthier. Apparently, a healthy economy was more important then a healthy population! Ironically, it was abolished just when the evidence of its great effects started to appear.

Michael Greger MD, FACLM, January 30,2020

Recipe of the Month

Greek Salad

3 tomatoes                        125g firm tofu
1 cucumber                       2 lemons juiced
½ red onion                       1 tsp Celtic salt
1 Tbsp olive oil                   Sundried tomatoes to taste (opt)
½ cup kalamata olives        basil chopped (opt)
100g baby spinach or lettuce

Cut the tofu into 1cm cubes and place in a small saucepan with juice of 2 lemons and salt.
Simmer 15 minutes and leave to further marinate in fridge.
Cut tomatoes into wedges.
Dice cucumber.
Wash baby spinach or lettuce. (If using lettuce, tear into bite-size pieces)
Thinly slice red onion.
Drain tofu and use the juice as a dressing with olive oil.
Layer salad ingredients in a bowl, topping with tofu and olives.
Drizzle the dressing over and garnish with finely chopped fresh basil. — Nicky Sawyer, Australia