Obesity Taxes

Junk food tax and Pringles

Pierre Dubois of VoxEU has a suggestion to reduce obesity rates: a junk food tax. Dubois claims that a junk food tax of 5% would reduce junk food consumption by 15% and thus reduce obesity.

While junk food is not healthy, it offers the most calories per dollar. Thus, a junk food tax would fall disproportionally on the poor. Dubois states that “poor consumers [affected by the junk food tax] could then find cheap calories in less-dense food items, like starchy foods which are less apt to be overeaten.”

From a philosophical point of view, I generally do not like government officials making rules about what type of food you can eat. If you want to have a banana split every day that is your choice.

Some “experts” argue that in countries with public health care systems, however, the public does end up paying for the additional health costs of obesity. Yet it not been conclusively showed that obesity leads to higher health care costs. While obese individuals generally have higher health care costs each year, those who are extremely overweight also have lower life expectancy. According to a PLoS study, obese individuals actually cost the NHS less money due to their lower life expectancy.

Further, as a practical matter, it is difficult to determine which food are junk foods. Most people would claim that Pringles are junk food. In the UK, food is exempt from their 17.5% sales tax with the exception of potato chips. According to the L.A. Times, a British court has ruled that Pringles are not potato chips and thus are exempt from the tax.

If Pringles don’t count as junk food, then what does?


  1. A “junk food” tax assumes that eating “junk food” will make you obese. However, not all people that eat junk food are obese.

    This will not only financially punish those that are poor, but will also punish anyone that buys “junk food”.

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