The Calorie Tax is Coming?

With the current obesity epidemic, approximately 1/3 Americans meet the clinical definition of being obese while 2/3 Americans are simply ‘overweight.’

Policy makers are already scratching their heads wondering how to address this global health issue.  Obesity itself increases your risk of a number of health conditions ranging from arthritis (osteoarthritis) to diabetes.   As such, the healthcare costs associated with obesity are very significant.

Should We Tax Junk Food?
Should We Tax Junk Food?

 The Junk Food Tax?

If you were to pay a premium for high-calorie food, how would it influence your grocery shopping?

According to a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the bottom-line has potential to shrink,well, your bottom [1].

The research itself is rooted in behavioral economic theory which is actually pretty simple.  Essentially by increasing the cost associated with unhealthy choices will result in people on a population level making healthier decisions or basically what amounts to a junk food tax.  Raise the price of junk food and its demand will drop…

An alternate strategy that this study considered was simply providing consumers with calorie and nutritional information.  Does more disclosure of the nutritional value of food lead people to make healthier decisions?  According to the researchers, it does in some cases, but the results have been inconsistent.  They speculate that this information is mostly effective for those who’re concerned about their body weight and shape.

In this particular study, they included 178 university students who were given a lunch menu to choose from on 3 separate occasions.  In addition, some of these students were also provided with nutritional information on the menu items.

What the researchers found was that, not surprisingly, the food tax on high calorie food items resulted in the students eating fewer calories.  However, this effect was limited to those who did not receive any nutritional information for the items on the menu.

When nutritional information was provided, the students attended and responded to this information regardless of the price of the food itself.  Does this suggest that providing nutritional information makes a ‘food tax’ redundant?  Possibly.

Yet the results of this study have to be considered in the context of a few major limiting factors of the study design.  Though the students participated in selecting items on this menu, they neither actually consumed nor paid for anything that they ordered.  Yes, the process of paying for and ordering food in this study was merely hypothetical.

On that note, what would you rather see… A tax added to high-calorie or basically junk food or simply more nutritional information available at restaurants?


  1. Giesen JC, Payne CR, Havermans RC, Jansen A. Exploring how calorie information and taxes on high-calorie foods influence lunch decisions. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Jan 26. [Epub ahead of print]

3 thoughts on “The Calorie Tax is Coming?

  • March 9, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    Um… so 1/3 of America is obese while 2/3 of America is overweight? Meaning that there are 0 Americans that are skinny or at their correct weight. I am not a math professor, but 1/3 + 2/3 = 3/3 which = 100 percent. I think these statistics may be off a little.

    • March 9, 2011 at 7:57 pm

      No you are not a math professor Tom. :) There’s overlap between the two categories. If someone meets the category for obesity then they also qualify as being overweight.

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