Friday, January 4, 2013

Tax America's Junk Food Addiction

"But it tastes good."

If I had a dollar for every time I heard this lame excuse, or justification, for why some chooses to eat fast food, I'd be a very rich man.  And, I'd still be a lot healthier than the average American.  No one really thinks fast food is good food, and no one argues for its health benefits.  Few people would even assert that the poor quality of fast and heavily processed food is not a significant health concern.  Everyone knows it is.  Regardless, Americans are loathe to give up or concede to stiffer regulation to one of the most obvious contributors to the obesity and health crisis in the United States.  Too many Americans are simply careless when it comes to what sort of "food" they will regularly put into their bodies.

Americans, still, are conflicted over what to do about rising obesity rates and its clear link to fast food and processed food consumption.  Recent polls suggest that Americans actually want the government to do something about the country's obesity problem.  However, in their traditions of being clueless and hypocritical about what they want and what they think government should do, Americans also oppose any attempts by the government to regulate food or encourage healthier choices.  In reality, an individual has a right to eat whatever he chooses.  That said, with the American government responsible for the health care costs of millions of people on Medicare, the taxpayers do have a legitimate financial interest in improving Americans' eating habits.  Additionally, in the private health care system, healthier people end up paying the price for unhealthier ones.  And, taxing behavior to discourage excessive use is a legitimate and time tested way of modifying behavior - it clearly worked to lower smoking rates.  So, for all but the seriously irrational and ideological, taxes on diet vices should be considered a legitimate public health response.

The negative impact of eating fast food is most obviously because "there's no food in fast food."  Of course, it's not like anyone really believes fast food is good quality.  They are simply willing to feed themselves really crappy "food products."  And that is America's biggest problem - we have very low standards and don't treat ourselves very well.  Seriously, why would someone be willing to eat from the "dollar menu" - unless, of course, he really only values himself that much.  The problem is that in a complex health care system that leverages and dilutes risk through a large pool, one person's poor habits negatively impact the quality of life and cost of health care for others who actually "care" about their "health."  In other words, someone else's poor habits literally raise my health care rates.  So, yes, it is my business.

Until people care about their health, America will suffer from a health care crisis.  And eating fast food is quite simply careless.

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