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fat tax

noun [countable/uncountable]

a tax on foods which are considered to be unhealthy, especially fatty or sweet foods which can lead to obesity or other health problems

'A Downing Street-based policy unit has proposed a plan to place a "fat tax" on junk food in an attempt to tackle the rising incidence of heart disease…'

The Telegraph 19th February 2004

'An article published in the American Journal of Public Health last year found that 17 U.S. states already have special taxes on soft drinks, candy and snack foods and estimated that these fat taxes already generate more than $1-billion (U.S.) annually.'

www.debatabase.org 1st February 2004

predictably, fat tax is a highly controversial concept, with many people arguing that it patronises consumers by implying that they cannot think for themselves …

Less than 10 per cent of the UK population were classified as obese during the 1980s, but this figure had risen to more than 20 per cent in 2001. In response to the growing problem of obesity and the recent revelation that heart disease has overtaken cancer as Britain's biggest killer, the British government has been considering new strategies to promote a healthier approach to eating. It is in this context that the term fat tax hit the headlines in the UK during the early part of 2004. The Prime Minister's strategy unit allegedly put forward proposals to impose increased duty on foods which are deemed to be unhealthy, such as fast food, butter and full-fat milk, chocolate bars and pastries.

Predictably, fat tax is a highly controversial concept, with many people arguing that it patronises consumers by implying that they cannot think for themselves and therefore need to be taxed into weight loss. Others argue that it is impossible to make definitive decisions about what food is healthy and what is not – for instance many fruits have a high sugar content, but it seems ridiculous to consider imposing a fat tax on fruit. However, recent statistics from the British Medical Journal indicate that a fat tax could help prevent 1000 premature deaths from heart disease every year in the UK.

Background – fat tax

The term fat tax emerged in the United States in the mid-eighties amid growing concern about the nation's escalating problem of obesity. By 2002, 31 per cent of American adults were classified as obese. Many US states have now implemented fat taxes on foods that are considered to be obesogenic.

The idea of imposing a tax on something which is considered socially or personally detrimental is nothing new. As far back as the 18th century, the term luxury tax was used to refer to taxes designed to discourage the consumption of certain articles. Two English examples were French lawns and laces! Fat tax can be thought of as a form of sin tax (based on the word sin meaning 'behaviour which is morally wrong'), an expression dating from the early twentieth century which generally refers to a tax on anything which has harmful effects on consumers, typically alcohol or tobacco.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 30th July 2004.

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