'Fat taxes' could save billons in healthcare costs: study

Researchers believe taxing salt and saturated-fat could save Australia billions in health care costs and extend people's lives AFP

MIAMI —

Taxing unhealthy foods that contain salt, sugar and fat could save Australia billions in health care costs and extend people’s lives by coaxing them to eat better, researchers say.

The study in the journal PLOS Medicine modeled the impact of raising prices on certain foods, and assumed that costlier snacks and comfort foods would lead to changes in consumer behavior.

Such taxes could save Australia A$3.4 billion ($2.3 billion) “over the remaining lifetimes of all Australians alive in 2010,” said the study, led by Linda Cobiac of the University of Melbourne.

A number of other Western countries have already implemented or proposed taxes on unhealthy foods and drinks in a bid to curb the obesity epidemic.

The study modeled the effect of taxing saturated fat, salt, sugar, and sugar-sweetened beverages in Australia, as well as the impact from subsidizing fruits and vegetables.

The most significant gains could be achieved by taxing sugar, which the study said could avert 270,000 disability-adjusted life years (DALYs)—or years of healthy lifespan lost due to disease.

“That is a gain of 1.2 years of healthy life for every 100 Australians alive in 2010,” said the study.

“Few other public health interventions could deliver such health gains on average across the whole population.”

The second-greatest impact was seen in a salt tax, followed by a saturated-fat tax and a sugar-sweetened beverage tax.

Adding subsidies for fruits and vegetables “reduced health sector spending, but on their own were not estimated to lead to a clear health benefit,” said the study.

The taxes and subsidies were limited to allow for less than a one percent change in total food spending for the average household.

Researchers cautioned that they attempted to simulate consumer behavior in various hypothetical circumstances, leaving room for uncertainty.

“For example, we are reliant on other research estimating the responsiveness of the public to changes in food prices. There are also implementation issues for the food industry,” said the study.

“Nevertheless, this study adds to the growing evidence of large health benefits and cost-effectiveness of using taxes and regulatory measures to influence the consumption of healthy foods.”

© 2017 AFP

  • 2

    kibousha

    Like it did wonders with taxation of cigarettes ?

  • -3

    FizzBit

    Imagine what they'll be taxing in 50 years. Don't they already tax your TV, or is that New Zealand? Don't know enough about Australia, but how will this increase prosperity and freedom?

  • 0

    FernGully

    Just another method of control (and money) for the government, if passed.

  • -2

    goldorak

    Perso am all for it.

    Oz is one of the most obese nation in the world (alongside the usual suspects i.e US, P.I, Uk etc) with roughly 2/3 of the population either overweight or obese and something needs to be done.

    As long as thousands of hungry jacks, maccas etc offer $6.00 meals i.e jpy500 (coke, fries, burger, couple of nuggets and an ice cream) obesity will always be an issue. Solution is either ban these fast-food chains (imo too drastic, but limiting their presence should be a no brainer) or tax their unhealthy foods. A healthy sandwich, healthy rice dish or salad should never cost more (often twice) than an unhealthy, fatty meal.

    In an ideal world (with responsible ppl) sure there would be no need government intervention. Pbm is the vast majority of ppl are lazy, ignorant/uninformed...and poor.

  • -3

    BertieWooster

    This is an excellent idea. So a Big Mac would be something like 5,000 yen. They could also heavily tax the GMO crap that so many food products contain, fructose from "giant corn" and so on.

  • 3

    edbardoe

    Will a single life be saved NO, you are going to die anyway!!! A longer life? Maybe, or maybe it will just seem longer!

  • 0

    itsonlyrocknroll

    The theory behind the technology and modelling that calculates disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) is a hierarchical framework to analyze and so predict lifespan thought mathematical assessment brings us back to the questions raised in the How algorithms (secretly) run the world thread.

    At the heart of the calculus to evaluate disability-adjusted life years is a bespoke quantitative object detection algorithm. This tech, and yes Otacon512 deliberately afforded a unnecessary nerdy monika, also to make a point, I am not the not the only quant/data analyst to reach this conclusion.

    The data consulting business I own and contribute to here in Japan and also in England, a majority of the team feel likewise.The inflated jargon heavy rhetoric raises customer expectations to such a level to believe this tech can justify political objectives, an example is to raise taxes and at the same time make promises of future health care savings, even so far as to make magical claims of extending life.

    If I had a day for every government organizations, NGO's, institutions that comes a knocking armed with grant money and requests for services, products and research that can or be made to justify a political policy, or method of rising tax revenue I would live forever.

  • 2

    afanofjapan

    In Australia it is MUCH cheaper to eat unhealthy food than it is to eat healthy food. One of my ex girlfriends was from a fairly poor family, and they ate pizza and McDonalds most nights of the week (Pizza was $5 for a large pizza, two of which would feed the family). Luckily she moved out when she was 16, and took a bit better care of herself.

    But taxing fast food wont make these people suddenly go out to eat more expensive healthy food - it will just make them have less money left over.

    Perhaps a double whammy - tax on unhealthy food plus rebates for healthy food (money raised from the fat tax, could be used to offer the rebate on the healthy stuff.

  • 0

    gaijintraveller

    Unfortunately many such measures backfire. It is said that diet carbonate drinks are even less healthy than the real thing.

  • 0

    MrBum

    @edbardoe

    It's not just about saving lives. It's also about saving tax money spent on treating diabetes, heart problems, etc. Personally, I'm undecided on the issue, but that's the reasoning.

  • -1

    BertieWooster

    Instead of the useless rubbish that high school kids are expected to memorise, REAL information on nutrition should be on the curriculum. They should know what goes into fast foods and how they are made. They should know what is healthy and what is not and learn to make good choices for what they want to eat.

    This would make it unnecessary to tax unhealthy food.

  • 0

    smithinjapan

    Do it. Why not? But if they are doing it, I hope they lower the costs of healthier foods. A lot of people eat crap because crap is all they can afford. I'm sure a large number of them would go organic or at least eat a little healthier if it was cheaper and more readily available.

  • 0

    Reckless

    once the US government gets into health insurance via Obamacare you can expect a lot more paternalism to try and lower health care costs.

    I prefer more information to the consumer and individual choice. As to a tax, how about a fat scale at the restaurant, if you weigh 300 pounds you pay plus 50 bucks, if you are average weight you pay no tax,,,

  • 2

    Tokyo-Engr

    Heck I say tax everything! Seriously though, these taxes seem to always look good on paper but human behavior is not quantifiable. I am sure there are people with good intentions engaging in these studies but I also believe there are people looking for revenue sources.

    Taxation should not be used as a mechanism to manipulate human behavior as I do not necessarily believe it works and it usually ends up being a regressive tax.

    Here is a pretty good article by The Guardian on this subject matter.

    https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2016/mar/16/will-a-sugar-tax-actually-work-budget

  • 0

    Dennis Bauer

    And if you don't eat enough you get starvation tax!

  • 2

    itsonlyrocknroll

    Governments could just compel the food industry though legislation to reduce the the salt, sugar, fat etc etc. These are a cynical stealth taxes.

  • 1

    maxjapank

    I'd support it. Though this isn't about smoking, one of the reasons that finally helped me quit was the cost of smoking. I know the uproar would be tremendous, unlike it was for smoking. But if the goal is to make the population more healthy and lower health care costs, it is a viable option.

  • -1

    Triring

    Reckless

    Has that ever worked for tobacco? Bad habits are hard to break, especially if they are addictive like sweeteners (sugar).

    Taxing sugar is like souring the milk to persuade them to kick the habit and goes a long way in preventive health measures where social cost can be cut down with less acute cases where you need to be rushed to the hospital by an ambulance and taken to ER for emergency surgery.

    Think of it a mandatory requirement for all homes are needed to install a smoke detector.

  • -2

    pointofview

    Ah...Good ole taxes. How about developing a tax based on how much TV one watches? That would cut med bills as well.

  • 0

    Tokyo-Engr

    @pointofview - I agree and while they are at it I think they should tax the air we breather (as we are breathing in toxins every day) and then after we breathe in tax the air we breathe out based on the carbon emissions.

  • 2

    FizzBit

    Isn't it funny we never read stories about increasing the taxes on lobbing and lobbyists?

  • 1

    Nippori Nick

    If too many people live longer lives, next thing the government will complain about is they can't afford to keep paying pensions.

  • -3

    BertieWooster

    Well, I think the jolly old Japanese government should tax fat foods. Let's face it, we're not paying anywhere near enough tax. We should be paying far more. I mean, look at the expenses the government has to pay for. Where can the money come from but taxes?

    Giving away all that money in aid and paying to support the US military, the upcoming Olympics, the salaries bonuses and expenses of high level politicians and civil servants. These fellows can't travel economy class and stay at backpacker hostels, can they? It wouldn't do, would it?

    They could start by raising consumption tax to 75 percent. Eight percent is far too little!

  • 0

    badsey3

    Saturated (and non-hydrogenated) animal fats are healthy especially from pasture fed/wild animals = they are the preferred fats and if heated they stay saturated. If fast food would just switch back to saturated fats instead of unsaturated (soybean, cottonseed, corn) fats people would be much healthier eating this poor grade of food. Unsaturated fats get even more unsaturated (oxidized) with heat and time (unsaturated fat used in a fryer for up to a week).

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