Should the U.S. tax junk food?
via AP

Should the U.S. tax junk food?

#TaxJunkFoodNow
#MyFoodMyChoice
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According to NBC News, Americas will consume 7 billion hot dogs between Memorial Day and Labor Day—that's 818 hot dogs per second. Health advocates argue the U.S. should tax junk food because it leads to a number of health problems including obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. But opponents of the tax say it disproportionately hurts the poor and infringes on the personal freedom of individuals to make their own diet choices. What do you think? 🌭🌭🌭
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#TaxJunkFoodNow
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In 2011, Hungary put a 4-cent tax on food and drinks "that contain high levels of sugar and salt." In 2013, Mexico passed a similar 8-percent tax on foods "including snacks, sweets, nut butters, cereal-based prepared products" and other "non-essential foods." In the years since these taxes were implemented, as Julia Belluz outlines in Vox, both cities have seen a decline in junk food consumption.

It’s still too early to tell whether junk food taxes will curb obesity or diabetes. It’ll take years to understand that. But for now, through both increasing the price of the products and education campaigns around the taxes, junk food taxes appear to reduce consumption.

The research also suggests the taxes hit low-income people the hardest, who are most likely to consume junk food. But it also drove lower-income individuals to seek out healthier options by steering them away from junk food.

Since low-income people tend to consume the most junk food, and are also at the greatest risk of diet-related disease, “this suggests a junk food tax might be regressive on income and progressive on healthfulness of food purchases.” In other words, the taxes hit the poorest people the hardest, but in doing so, may also move them away from junk food, Smith Taillie explained.

But not everyone is convinced a junk food tax will curb obesity and other health problems. Michael D. Thomas argues in US News that "after many years of failed policy attempts" people should be skeptical about the effectiveness of junk food and soda taxes which have done little to improve people's diets.

For starters, junk food is consumed predominantly by poorer communities who live in food deserts—defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as “urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food.” When prices rise on the only food these communities are easily able to access, it only makes them poorer, not healthier.

Many people live in areas where little else besides this type of food is available, areas called food deserts... On top of this, salt and sugar are the most popular preservatives. That means food can wait around until you get ready to eat it, unlike a banana or an apple slice. Convenience is an important aspect of food purchases. It’s no wonder so many people make the choice to buy cheap, convenient food that might ultimately make them subject to chronic health problems.

If junk food taxes don't act as a strong deterrent, but rather just make the poor poorer, is that really the type of tax we should be imposing?

In our study, we show that consumers will not respond to taxation on junk food by changing behavior, which is a premise of these taxes. The only result seems to extract more tax from those people in society that have the least options and the hardest time making ends meet. 
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