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Is a Tax on Junk Food a Good Approach to Combating Global Obesity? Essay

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Aptly described by WHO as an ‘escalating global epidemic’ (WHO, 2002), the burden of obesity on communities is self-evident: an estimated 3 million deaths and 2 trillion dollars in medical costs (Dobbs et al., 2014). To address the challenge member nations have introduced tax policies to regulate people’s nutrition. The phraseology ‘junk food’ is attributed to sugar sweetened beverages and energy dense processed foods and may apply to foods of higher than needed caloric value (Donald et al., 2015). The theory of change model behind introduction of the tax intervention is that increasing prices of junk food will result in consumers choosing healthier food options (Darmon et al., 2003).

I believe the imposition of the junk food targeted tax is at best a sincere attempt to do something about the imploding burden of global obesity, however sincerity cannot be a substitute for science. Data gleaned from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey indicates though sugar intake has declined in a 13-year period, the trends in obesity have inversely surged. In-spite of many years of introduction of junk tax schemes, there is very little data to support a correlation of decline in obesity. In fact, the trend of obesity rather skyrocketed (Guyenet, 2015).

The fight against the obesity epidemic must be roundly reasonable. It against this background of the unreasonableness of a mass roll of a junk tax policy without any empirical evidence to corroborate a resultant decline in obesity in pilot communities that I oppose the motion.

Taxation generally as policy interventions tend to be regressive and they present with unintended complications. The junk tax policy has not been an exception. In a study conducted in Seattle – the 8th city to adopt Junk tax in the US, associated marginal collateral price increases were observed on non-junk foods. Retailers simply saw an opportunity to marginally increases prices to make higher profits. The net effect is that food generally becomes more expensive. For poor families who spend up to 30% of their income on food, such collateral increases risk pushing them into food insecurity (Regoli, 2019). Given 2.7 billion of the world’s population live on less than $2.5 a day (Karaivanov, 2019) any such intervention with such negative effects on the poor, no matter how sincere must not be encouraged.

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There is also an erroneous notion that proceeds of junk tax will provide more revenue for governments to fund pro-poor programs to assuage the unintended burden on the poor. I agree with Powell and Chaloupka (2009) who strongly opine that, to expect a decline in junk food consumption while anticipating an increased revenue yield is unsustainable and at best simplistic. What is more, taxing the poor in order to turn around to feed them with the tax proceeds is merely a pyrrhic victory and truly needless.

At the heart of this debate is the gnawing issue of whether we can attribute the world’s obesity epidemic directly to the sheer intake of junk foods. In a lecture on ‘Nutrition Myths and Realities’, Dr Dan Benardot, a renowned nutrition expert, asserts that increases in body fat deposits is not simply a function of what is eaten but how much is eaten, when it is eaten, in what state it is eaten and by whom. He further asserts that the rate of obesity increased across the world during the era of industrialization where due to job pressure, number of daily meals decreased form increased interval of meals. Whichever way you look at it the evidence is clear that it is simplistic is say sugar and fatty foods are the cause of global obesity and that reducing their consumption will necessarily lead to decrease in obesity.

Conversely more reasonable approaches education communities especially poor income household on the causes and impact of obesity and empowering them to make intentional healthy choices. Other interventions like, tax holidays for farmer and farm produce subsidies could make prices of healthier options cheaper for poor income households. Once could also consider tax incentives for people who bike to work and companies who provide gym in their offices for staff.

In conclusion, I submit that I am against the blind roll out of junk tax across WHO member countries because taxes are regressive and negatively impact the poor. Besides more reasonable approaches to weight reduction can be considered and ultimately it is not simply sugar and fat that is the problem but anything eaten in excess is ultimately bad.

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Is a Tax on Junk Food a Good Approach to Combating Global Obesity? Essay. (2022, October 28). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 6, 2023, from
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