Snack tax to combat obesity?

How would you feel about a tax on snack foods to combat obesity? Imagine having to pay one or two cents extra on each packet of sweets, bar of chocolate, bottle of cooldrink and hamburger?

The revenues collected by taxing luxury foods could be put to good use to fund obesity research and educate the general public about healthy eating habits.

Does this sound like a scenario from George Orwell's 1984, with Big Brother watching you as you chew a sweetie or down a fizzy drink? Well, consider how other "sins", like smoking and alcohol, are being taxed and such a scenario isn't as far-fetched as it seems.

The obesity epidemic
Obesity is assuming epidemic proportions all over the developed world. Recent statistics show that 750 million people worldwide are overweight, out of which 300 million are obese.

Something clearly needs to be done to combat this ever-increasing rise in obesity before the entire world is overweight.

A study conducted by Yale University in the USA proposed that by levying a one-cent tax on snack foods, vast amounts of money could be made available for research and education to address the worldwide obesity epidemic.

The eminent researchers calculated that the US Treasury would be able to raise $1.8 billion per annum with a snack tax. The breakdown of where the income would be coming from is fascinating, because it gives a clear indication of which foods are consumed in the greatest quantities: $1.5 billion from cold drinks; $70 million from candy or sweets, $54 million from chips and $190 million from other snack-type foods.

It would appear that cold drinks are by far the greatest contributors to weight gain in the USA, followed by candy, sweets and chocolates.

These figures are mindboggling and one can imagine that the South African Revenue Services would love to get their hands on such sums.

Will it happen?
Most people would regard such a snack tax as far-fetched. But seeing that the doors have been opened for taxing other "sinful" habits, like smoking and drinking alcohol, it would be surprising if governments around the world didn't latch on to such an easy way of making extra money.

And you, as the consumer, would after all not feel that initial one-cent increase in the price of cold drinks, chocolates, sweets, chips, hamburgers, hot dogs, ice cream, etc.

The danger is of course that governments wouldn't stop at one cent per item. Once the money comes rolling in, they would be tempted to increase their tax every now and then, and eventually we would be paying 10-50c per item in sin tax.

Because this type of money gathering is highly attractive to governments and as it can be rationalised in similar fashion to taxes on smoking and alcohol, we might be paying tax on our little weaknesses like chocs and chips one of these days.

- (Dr I.V. van Heerden, DietDoc, updated July 2009)

Any questions? Ask DietDoc

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
The ANC's leadership race is heating up. Who do you think will be elected party president at Nasrec in December?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has got it in the bag
7% - 619 votes
I foresee a second term for Cyril Ramaphosa
83% - 7424 votes
Don’t discount a Zweli Mkhize win
10% - 923 votes
Vote
Rand - Dollar
17.63
+1.2%
Rand - Pound
20.24
-0.2%
Rand - Euro
17.61
-0.4%
Rand - Aus dollar
11.46
+1.4%
Rand - Yen
0.12
+0.8%
Gold
1,725.57
+1.5%
Silver
21.05
+1.7%
Palladium
2,312.00
+3.9%
Platinum
934.00
+3.3%
Brent Crude
88.86
+4.2%
Top 40
59,840
+3.3%
All Share
66,313
+3.2%
Resource 10
64,568
+4.5%
Industrial 25
80,073
+3.2%
Financial 15
14,053
+1.7%
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.

LEARN MORE