Policies that limit consumer choices on food items are believed to be controversial. Markedly, there is an intense ethical disagreement concerning fat tax. Some stakeholders allege that unhealthy foods are a big threat to public health, and so there is a need to encourage people to shape up and adopt healthy eating habits by taxing these foods. Conversely, opponents have raised ethical concerns with this tax policy using various concepts including equality, fairness, and freedom.
Unhealthy foods are considered to be the leading cause of obesity which is associated with an increased risk of chronic conditions including diabetes and hypertension.
Nutrition-related health issues have a significant impact on modern society and are likely to result in unsustainable medical systems.
The rising cases of obesity in recent years have led to an increase in healthcare costs. Thus, poor nutritional choices are a burden to the healthcare system. As a result, many states across the world are considering taxing these foods to influence what people eat.
The first question I find important is the one about fairness. The implementation of this policy should be fair to all members of society. Tax on junk foods can reduce economic and health care costs which will impact everyone positively. On the other hand, this taxation can be unfair to low-income earners as a large share of their income will be taken.
The second question is about liberty. Government taxes affect consumer choices, and so this policy will restrict their food options and may be considered unethical.
Diminished individual autonomy on food choices can compromise health (Barnhill & King, 2013). On the contrary, allowing individuals to act autonomously is said to be ethical as it has good consequences such as promoting health.
It is crucial to note that there is a growing concern regarding unhealthy foods. One of the ethical arguments that support government tax on these foods is that this policy can reduce health disparities by ensuring a fair distribution of health in the society. Although opponents argue that there will be unequal distribution of income, health should be given the first priority. Furthermore, poor households are associated with high incidences of obesity, and hence this regulation will encourage them to eat a healthier diet and reduce obesity cases. Revenue collected from the taxes can be used to subsidize healthy foods; this can improve personal productivity. Again, failure to put constraints on unhealthy foods gives people robust autonomy which can make them choose to eat unhealthy foods. The costs related to unlimited consumer options are high. Reducing these choices will have a positive impact on society as a whole.
Educational experiences have enabled me to understand that unhealthy foods can cause both personal and social harms. Besides, from a socio-cultural context, I have witnessed that obese people are often stigmatized in society making them have low self-esteem alongside increased rates of anxiety and depression.
From an economic perspective, I have observed that obese people are always in and out of hospitals; this means they spent a lot of money on health care. Specifically, unhealthy foods increase medical costs and thus imposes an economic burden on a country. For instance, obese people are likely to be absent from work most of the time and are associated with lower productivity in the workplace.
From an ethical context, I have seen that when people are subjected to unlimited food choices, they tend to make wrong decisions and consume junk foods. In other words, they use their freedom of dietary choices poorly.
Government tax on unhealthy foods can help in addressing other things that benefit everyone such as fair distribution of resources and opportunities. In such a case, it will act as a neutral equity proposition. This tax can help poor households avoid diseases that have a huge financial burden.
Revenue generated from taxing unhealthy food can be used to subsidize healthy foods and improve health. Franck, Grandi, and Eisenberg (2013) argue that imposing a tax on cheap and energy-dense junk foods will force consumers to avoid unhealthy choices and go for healthy ones.
Using tax to curb consumption of junk foods is said to be a cheap and effective method. This approach can be implemented quickly and will discourage people from buying expensive foodstuffs. This has worked for Mexico and Hungary where consumers reacted to junk food tax by shifting to cheaper healthier products (Belluz, 2018).
This tax will increase productivity since people will become healthier and productive. Productivity costs will reduce dramatically. Markedly, one of the contributors to the costs of obesity is lost productivity.
Obesity is the leading cause of cardiovascular-related deaths. This tax will reduce obesity rates and reduce the risk of premature mortalities.
According to a WHO report of 2003, one of the key contributors to increased consumption of junk food is their inexpensiveness (Franck et al., 2013). Therefore, regulating their price can reduce obesity.
World Health Organization supports my viewpoint. WHO has used Hungary tax to justify that junk food tax can reduce unhealthy nutritional choices. WHO can assist governments in implementing regulatory policies by providing evidence-based guidance (Gostin et al., 2017). Evidence-based laws have been found to be effective in improving health outcomes besides promoting healthy lifestyles. Furthermore, taxing unhealthy food products will generate additional revenue that can be invested in health services and improve the health of a nation as a whole.
WHO acknowledges that taxing junk food will curb the obesity epidemic. The groups that will be highly impacted by these taxes are low-income families, young people, and high consumers of sugary drinks; their health will be affected positively. There is an urgent need to save many lives by regulating the consumption of unhealthy diet.
Some public health professionals are pushing governments to tax unhealthy foods. They believe that states have a responsibility to promote healthy behaviors and a healthy society. Notably, the government can reduce healthcare costs by shaping people’s decisions on what they eat. These experts are worried about the rising incidences of obesity across the world as it poses a public health challenge. Consequently, they are considering interventions that can effectively curb this issue. Consumers are expected to respond to taxation by changing their eating behaviors.
Health economists also support the taxation of foods that are unhealthy to improve the quality of life. Their viewpoint might have been influenced by the question regarding outcomes. Consumption of junk food hurts the economy as it has external costs on society. Thus, taxation will boost the economy since it will yield substantial revenue that can be used to boost the health care system. This can also mitigate inequity concerns.
Consumer International (CI) maintains that there is a need to regulate the food industry just the same way the tobacco industry is regulated. Their position on this issue might have been influenced by the questions of authority and rights. This group is expected to compel the government to take action to prevent diet-related conditions (Stephens, 2014). Taxing junk food will introduce subsidies for healthier food and promote healthy eating.
World Obesity Federation wants governments to tax junk foods. The position of this group might have been influenced by the questions of outcomes and rights. Its role in this issue is to commit the government to enact stringent rules that will manipulate consumer choices (Stephens, 2014). This will curb the rising cases of obesity and improve productivity. The revenue made from the tax can be channeled to educate the public about good dietary choices.
Consumer lobbies maintain that low-income populations will be hit hardest by the tax since they will use a large percentage of their income on healthy foods. Opponents argue that it is unethical to tax basic commodities. Furthermore, poor households consume more junk food than rich households (Franck, Grandi &Eisenberg, 2013). As a result, there is a concern about potential discrimination of the poor.
The food industry strongly opposes fat taxes citing infringement of individual freedom and abuse of the sovereign’s power in a free society (Albala, 2015). This industry has reinforced its efforts in fighting these taxes by creating various organizations including the Center for Consumer Freedom to oppose government regulation.
Some scientists argue that taxing consumer choice does not guarantee a change in eating habits. Notably, most of the consumers of unhealthy food live in food deserts, and it might be challenging for them to access healthy foods. The poor households will be disproportionately affected since food choices available in their communities will be constrained. This approach of taxing food items failed in Denmark and was abolished a year later after it was introduced (Albala, 2015). The reason for its termination was that it did not change eating habits. Opponents believe that government should instead invest in educating the public to adopt healthy eating behaviors and embrace exercise.