Denmark has enacted a tax on foods containing high percentages of saturated fat, the BBC reported over the weekend. The move is of course meant to help whittle Danish waistlines; about 10 percent of the adult population of Denmark is obese.
The rest of the world, including many of us here in the United States (where 33 percent of the adult population is obese), will be watching closely to see whether taxing a category of foods will affect obesity rates.
The fat tax, which adds to the cost of foods according to how much saturated fat they contain, is philosophically similar to the soda tax proposals that have been kicked around in the U.S. over the past few years. The theory is that if you make foods that are bad for people more expensive, people will buy — and eat — less of those foods. But that theory has not been shown to work in the real world.
The big difference, obviously, is that the Danish government has decided saturated fat is the enemy, while many in the United States have focused more blame on soda — more specifically, the gobs of sugar that soda contains.
Both are debatable. Recent research has questioned whether saturated fat is quite the dietary demon it’s been believed to be, and experts at the recent American Dietetic Association annual conference argued the question as to whether sugar is really responsible for our obesity epidemic.
I’m not a fan of taking huge public policy steps without being sure of the supporting science. The only thing I’ll say in favor of the Danish fat tax is that it doesn’t single out one kind of food but rather sets a clear standard by which all foods are to be evaluated: Those containing more than 2.3 percent saturated fat get taxed; those with less, don’t.
Do you think food taxes could help societies slim down? If so, are they an appropriate tool? Do write in and share your thoughts.