Raising taxes, shrinking waists

By Gauntlet Editorial Board

Fatty food lovers in Denmark cleared supermarket shelves last month before prices of their favourite sinful treat became leavened with an extra fee.

On Oct. 1, Denmark raised prices of butter, milk, cheese, oils and other products containing more than 2.3 per cent of saturated fats. In the first move of its kind, a ‘fat tax’ is being applied in a long-staged war the Danish government is fighting against a rising obesity rate. The tax is an extra 16 Danish kroner, or about three dollars for every kilo of saturated fat. Approximately 12 cents will be added to a bag of chips, 39 cents to a small package of butter and 40 cents to the price of a hamburger.

Food industries complain the taxes will be an economic disaster. But will this tax actually affect consumer tendencies?

An independent Copenhagen supermarket worker said in the Vancouver Sun “If people want to buy a cake, they will buy it.”

A tax on unhealthy food is not a new regiment. In 2004, Denmark made it illegal for food to contain more than 2 per cent trans fats and in 2010 taxed sugary food. Many European countries have tantamount measures, but in lieu of combative action against obesity, the real predicament is what Canada is doing to fight alongside its European neighbours.

While 10 per cent of adult Danes are considered obese, that number looks small compared to over 25 per cent of Canadians.

Starting in 2012, five Canadian provinces’ public schools (Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and British Columbia) will be completely rid of junk food. The Healthy Schools for Healthy Foods Act has proceeded in banning fries, energy drinks and even instant noodles from being sold on school grounds.

Whether or not a price hike will deter consumers from indulging in fatty foods, the revenue from the Danish ‘fat tax’ will go towards obesity-fighting measures, funding projects for health awareness. Educating the population is the only way to fight obesity, because more often than not consumers do not know how to make healthy choices.

In 2001, 23 per cent of Canadians over 15 years old were smokers. A tax was applied in an attempt to lower smoking rates. The price of cigarettes in Canada varies significantly between provinces, but makes up 63­­­-70 per cent of the total price. The u.s. surgeon general reported that higher prices result in lower rates of consumption. A 10 per cent price increase should result in a two to three per cent drop in the number of smokers. The report also states that higher tax will deter teenagers from smoking.

According to Statistics Canada, 17 per cent of children over the age of six are in the overweight category. That is a lot of unhealthy kids who will inevitably turn into unhealthy adults– there is no question that something needs to be done.

Taking junk foods out of schools, although a commendable attempt, is not the entire solution. Students will walk across the street and pick up their snacks elsewhere. Kids need to be equipped with the tools to make healthy choices. Unless junk food is eliminated all together, taking them out of schools will not change their habits. If anything, kids will take the opportunity to stock up outside of schools. In a choice between a chocolate bar and an apple, Canadians need to choose the apple. Eating less junk food reduces the risk of developing serious health problems like cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure and diabetes.

In 1993, Health Canada estimated that the societal costs attributed to smoking were around $11 billion. In the same year, revenues from taxes on cigarettes were around $2.6 billion. If a tax does indeed deter consumers, the amount saved in health-care costs would be monumental.

Fast food will always be around the corner. Moving it around the block will not stop Canadians from growing horizontally, but equipping then with the will to pick a healthy option will. If Canada is really serious about health, it should start following the footsteps of our slimmer and obviously more health-conscious European neighbours.

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