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Posted on October 4, 2011 at 9:42 PM

Denmark is taxing fatty foods to the tune of $1.29/lb, reports the LA Times Booster Shots blog. Add this on to the sin taxes Danes already pay on sugary foods and their national ban on trans fats and I would argue that Denmark is the country with the most progressive food policy in the world.

And it’s about time some country figured out that this is one of the key tools to beating the obesity epidemic.

I’ve been debating this issue with public health students since 2005 and I am so glad to finally see that someone, some country rather, has taken this point of view seriously. A viable, realistic intervention for skyrocketing obesity rates around the developed world: a tax on the goods that contribute directly to the causes of obesity, namely physical inactivity and poor diet.

Tax fatty foods, and other goods that contribute to obesity, and utilize the revenues to improve physical activity and nutrition education for children and adults. No one’s liberties are being violated here–we aren’t banning fois gras or butter or anything–just making it a little more expensive to indulge one’s self. Hopefully, in that process, some might take a pass on that wheel of cheese that might cost as much as $.60 to $.90 more than before. For those impervious to price hikes such as this, they will still buy the cheese wheel and eat it happily and pay for their bariatric surgery out of pocket later.

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So yes, these taxes are a bit regressive, but it is precisely those most effected by a regressive tax that need the most help making food choices–those of low socioeconomic status are most afflicted by obesity, are most targeted by food advertisers and most likely to be enticed by the .99 cent value meal menu at Wendy’s because all they have is a couple of bucks in their pocket. Granted, if you live in a food desert, tax or no tax you’ll be eating whatever Wendy’s or the corner store sells. But revenues from such a tax could go to help reducing the number of food deserts in which people live.

Whether it will influence food choices and ultimately reduce obesity remains to be seen. At least one country has had the courage to try.

Summer Johnson McGee, PhD

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