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InsiderOnline Blog: August 2004

"Fat Tax" Rears Its Chubby Head

This doesn't look promising for the freedoms and wallets of Maine citizens. A brilliant idea from the Commission to Study Public Health:

The most controversial aspect of a commission subcommittee proposal took the form of a $4-per-gallon tax on every gallon of carbonated beverage syrup or its equivalent sold in the state for the purposes of raising $12 million. The beverage tax amounts to about 4 cents per 12-ounce container. The money would be used to coordinate school health programs; institute annual Body Mass Index assessments for students in grades kindergarten, one, three, seven, and nine; fund media campaigns promoting healthful diets and physical fitness; and increase the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables in schools.

The idea, thank goodness, sparked some opposition from politicians, so the Commission has backed off a little, handing the decision on where to get more money for these healthy programs over to the legislature to decide. Of course, there is always the distinct possibility that the state legislators will think the recommendations don't go far enough. After all, look at all the problems they'd have to fix to stop the trend:

Public health officials cite a combination of factors, including more sedentary lifestyles, more "screen time" in front of televisions and computers, an increase in the number of times per week that people eat meals outside the home, the "supersize" phenomenon in restaurant portions, and a culture that is more likely to accept its increased girth.

Clearly, there's a need for taxing couch-sitting-time, screens of all kinds, eating out, and Biggie combos. Changing the "culture that is more likely to accept its increased girth" will be harder, but Maine can start by identifying people who love overweight spouses and relatives as a threat to public health. Strange, wasn't it just a few episodes of Oprah ago that we weren't loving or accepting overweight people enough? Now, our tolerance is just contributing to the problem! Oh, tolerance is so confusing!

Perhaps my favorite part of this article is when a member of the public health commission recognizes that the market is actually offering healthy alternatives to soft drinks without government help but alas, it's just not working as efficiently as the government would in solving the problem. Ain't that always the way it goes?

"Consumption levels have more than doubled in the last 20 years and marketing has pretty much targeted kids, and even with changes going on in the industry, the fact is that kids consume way too much," he said. "So attacks on those beverages are not unrealistic."

Look out for this kind of talk to gain and gain since the federal government decided obesity is a disease, setting the stage for many, many fat lawsuit settlements. Reason magazine addresses the trend in its latest issue, in "Is the Size of Your Butt the Government's Business?" and the Washington Legal Foundation put out this paper in July on how the fat wars will infringe on your freedoms.

Posted on 08/05/04 01:47 PM by Mary Katherine Ham

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