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It Isn't Twinkies That Make You Fat
It's your inability to stop at just 12. Don't be swayed by the fact that fat-tax proponent Kelly Brownell got a job as a professor at Yale. There are many incongruities in the world, such as the fact that he appears to have issues stopping at just 12 himself.

Yo, Kelly, I eat a doughnut every day (actually, make that half a doughnut today -- I just gave the other half to a homeless guy), and I get thinner and thinner. Of course, before I ate this morning's half doughnut, I biked 15 miles. And no, I don't work out in some manic effort to stay twiggo, although it is nice to know that the thing dragging behind me on the sidewalk is probably only my shadow, not my ass cheeks. Beyond keeping that my bodily status quo, the fact is, if I don't move my ass often enough my head tends to fall on the desk while I'm writing.

Anyway, the "fat tax" proposal is rearing its flabby head again, thanks to New York State Assemblyman Felix Ortiz:

Popularly known as the "fat tax" or the "Twinkie tax," the concept first gained widespread attention in 1994 when Yale University psychology professor Kelly D. Brownell outlined the idea in an op-ed piece in The New York Times.

Addressing what he called a "dire set of circumstances," Brownell proposed two food-tax options: A big tax, in the range of 7 percent to 10 percent, to discourage the purchase of unhealthy processed foods while subsidizing healthier choices; or a much smaller tax to fund long-term public health nutrition programs.

"The American food system is set up as if maximizing obesity were the aim," Brownell told HealthDay. "So the idea was to tax either certain classes of foods -- like soft drinks or fat foods -- or to just tax specific foods high in calories or low in nutrition. Then you use the income from such a tax to subsidize the sale of healthy foods in order to reverse what is the unfortunate reality now: that it costs more to eat a healthier diet."

The tax, said Brownell, would be a pro-active response to a food industry and consumer culture that increasingly promotes high-fat/low-nutrition products as the cheapest, tastiest, most convenient and most available dietary options.

Brownell emphasized that, if properly implemented, fat taxes could yield major benefits. For example, slapping a single penny tax onto the cost of soft drinks across the country would generate almost $1.5 billion annually -- a figure that far exceeds the budgets of current government-sponsored nutrition programs, he said.

The non-profit Washington, D.C.-based Institute of Medicine (IOM) reports that, in recent years, levies of this kind have, in fact, been imposed -- with states such as Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington creating "fat taxes" on soft drinks sold within their borders.

Other states such as California, Maine and Maryland have also experimented with hefty "fat-tax" legislation, Brownell said. However, all the levies were ultimately repealed, highlighting several practical problems with the fat-tax concept identified by both Brownell and the IOM.

One big problem is that money collected through fat taxes has typically not been earmarked for obesity-prevention programs or healthy food subsidies; instead they were often used to cover budget deficits.

Covering fat cats' fat asses, in other words.

Posted by aalkon at January 15, 2006 10:59 AM

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ya know, mabey it isnt unhealty food making people fat, mabey its all the growth hormones they inject in to every animal so they can sell the animals to the supermarkets faster than nature intended

but then im sure the beef industry has a much stronger lobyist than the twinkie people do

Posted by: john at January 15, 2006 4:24 AM

Hmm, I wonder if has an effect on spelling, too.

These days, I eat grass-fed, New Zealand beef, for the most part, but even when I didn't, I wasn't a big mooing cow.

John, two notions for you:

1. Spell-check.
2. Supported arguments.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 15, 2006 6:52 AM

Hiring morality police to sneak up on fat people and beat them with canes as they are stuffing their faces with donuts is the only obesity-prevention program that will work.

Posted by: nash at January 15, 2006 7:32 AM

Yes, I believe Nash has it.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 15, 2006 7:35 AM

If shame, deprivation and humiliation were actually effective tools in combating obesity, we'd all be thin. Making fat a moral issue is the problem, not the solution.

Posted by: deja pseu at January 15, 2006 8:41 AM

And agree with Amy that the idea of a "fat tax" is wrongheaded.

Posted by: deja pseu at January 15, 2006 8:44 AM

Gary Taubes will be coming out with a book that will change the way Americans eat. Mistaken notions about fat as evil are part of the problem. This book, The Fat Fallacy, by neurophysiologist Will Clower, addresses the problem pretty well. But, a lot of it does stem from people refusing to get up off the couch, and refusing to be anything other than totally self-indulgent about what and how much they eat. The reason I had half a doughnut to give to the homeless guy is that food is big here. I trained myself not to automatically hoover up whatever was in front of me, but to eat until I wasn't hungry anymore, then stop. This involves understanding that you should eat slowly so you know if you're satisfied, not just gobbling stuff down. I eat a bit of my food, wait a little while, then eat more if I'm still hungry. In America, more often than not, I either throw away half my croissant or take it home. When we go out to dinner, I almost always get a full lunch out of the deal for the next day. Tragically, asking for a doggie bag in Paris is a faux pas. Then again, the portions there are fit for humans, not for a herd of famished moose.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 15, 2006 8:50 AM

I love how the bureaucrats try to justify these taxes by talking about how much money they will raise. Unbelievable. Just think if I robbed a bank and tried to justify it by saying it was the quickest way for me to raise a lot of money.

On weight control, I figured out a long time ago that it doesn't matter where the calories come from - only that you burn them all back off. Glad to hear you're a biker, Amy! Riding my bicycle is what I fantasize about during sex. Since we are unbelievably lucky in Iowa today to have 55 degree weather in January, I'm getting my butt out and doing some pedaling.

Posted by: Pirate Jo at January 15, 2006 9:19 AM

That's pretty funny. I actually worked as a bike messenger for a few weeks in NYC. I used to ride everywhere on my bike, which I painted with hot pink and orange leopard spots and covered with pink plastic flowers -- my form of theft-proofing. Unfortunately, I'm biking more than usual these days because I strained my knee running up stairs. I'm apparently a flat-surfaces runner only. Found out the hard way. Sigh.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 15, 2006 10:30 AM

Y'ever notive how of the thousands of articles you read every year, five of the best ones never get filed, or saved to disk or otherwise recorded?

A few years ago there was a convincing argument that an important component of our ballooning obesity is agriculture policy. Dammit I can't remember the details, but it went something like this: The farming cartels have made it so lucrative to produce corn sweenteners that the market is beyond saturated. Product designers are working in a bizarro world where 100-ounce soft drinks make sense. Consumers look at a bucket of soda pop, compare the price to an 8-ounce serving, and think they're making the deal of a lifetime, pancreas be damned.

> Making fat a moral issue is
> the problem, not the solution.

That's true, but when looking at photos like the one below, I feel ashamed. We're letting these kids down. Cancer, heart disease, lethargy...

Posted by: Crid at January 15, 2006 10:45 AM

You're right about the corn sweetener, Crid. Also, lowfat food is highty sweetened to make up for the lack of taste.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 15, 2006 11:10 AM

So what we got here is kind of an inside-out taxation that's levied on our cardiovascular systems.

A lot of our problems come from tinkering too deeply with prices. If stuff (farm product/petroleum/healthcare) was priced the way it oughta be, we wouldn't have to make fun of others for being weak-willed.

Though I, personally, would continue to do so. It's irresistable.

Posted by: Crid at January 15, 2006 11:39 AM

Kelly is pretty scary looking. If you want to see a movie about real food, check out Last Holiday with the Queen of Curves (and not the stupid girls' gym), Queen Latifah. Yes, she's larger than a size 2, but the food in the movie looks luscious.

Posted by: KateCOe at January 15, 2006 2:52 PM

Kelly is pretty scary looking. If you want to see a movie about real food, check out Last Holiday with the Queen of Curves (and not the stupid girls' gym), Queen Latifah. Yes, she's larger than a size 2, and the food in the movie looks luscious.
Corn syrup and soy are in everything.

Posted by: KateCOe at January 15, 2006 2:53 PM

There was an interesting report from the NBER in September about junk food vending machines in schools and the problem of childhood obesity. The authors pointed out that although junk food machines may be harmful to students who are prone to obesity, the sales usually help fund programs that benefit all students. It's conceivable that without the junk food revenue, some schools would have to cut physical activity programs -- thus leading to even more fat kids. Those grumpy economists, keeping us honest:

Posted by: Svelte-a-Lena at January 15, 2006 8:37 PM

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