Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

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More on fat tax


Recent research showed that a combination of factors was best at discouraging purchasing of “junk” foods. It also showed that, on their own, cheaper healthy options, anti-obesity advertising, and healthy food advertising were ineffective at dissuading “customers” from purchasing the junk food. However, increasing the price of the “junk” by 20% was persuasion enough for customers to select the healthier options.

While an interesting result, there are a number of problems with applying these findings in the real world. The research was done with participants in a laboratory. Thus, their economical means and purchasing behaviours may not have been representative of how they would act in “reality”. Also, were participants representative of the population? I worry the most about the impact of jacking up prices on “junk” food on those who are experiencing food insecurity. Increasing the cost of these foods may cause more harm than good.

In addition, as mentioned in the article we’ve already seen the failure of the “fat tax” in Denmark. Why would we think that increasing the price of “junk” food would be any more effective in North America? And who will decide what foods are healthy and what foods are unhealthy and deserving of taxation. I’ve seen granola bars that were not permitted under school nutrition policies that (in my opinion) were healthier than those that were permitted. The ones that were permitted contained chocolate chips. The ones that weren’t contained almonds, causing the fat content to be too high to meet criteria! Research is always evolving and even within the dietetic world there isn’t consensus on some matters. Some dietitians would rule out butter in favour of margarine. Some would be okay with added sugars, while others would eschew them. Most would say that all foods are okay, with some being everyday foods and others being occasional foods.

Also, what would happen with the increased revenue from “junk” foods? Would it go to the food industry? Would it go to the government? Or would it go to subsidise vegetables and fruits or create community food initiatives?

Yes, this research provides some insight into human behaviour. However, I’m not sure that it’s all that useful of a weapon in the war against obesity.

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How we can improve on the “fat tax”

After just over a year, Denmark announces that it’s scrapping its fat tax. Honestly, I’m not surprised, and I’m not disappointed. I think the idea of a “fat tax” on foods containing saturated fats is misguided for a number of reasons.

Fat is not the evil macronutrient we once believed it to be. Fat is actually an essential part of our diets. Even saturated fat is likely not harmful to us in healthy quantities. In fact, saturated fat in products like unrefined coconut oil and butter from grass-fed cows may actually be good for us. Fat in food is not the only thing making us fat.

Yes, taxing “junk” foods changes the food environment so that these foods may be less appealing to consumers. However, as the article I’ve linked to points out, consumers were going across the border to get their junk food fix. This change to the food environment is not the change we need to fight the obesity epidemic. The onus was put on the consumer when it should be put on the producer. How about having governments stop subsidizing agricultural industries such as the corn and sugarcane which is predominant throughout our food supply? Those savings could be used to subsidize nutritious fruits and vegetables, reducing the price consumers pay for them, making them more affordable and more appealing. In turn, the cost of processed, nutritionally devoid foods would increase now that the artificially low price due to subsidization no longer existed.

Healthy foods should be less expensive and unhealthy foods should be less affordable but this shift in balance should not come at the expense of the consumer, it should come at the expense of the food industry.