It should be rather straight forward.
Eating better = living healthier. Greater overall health = reduced nation-wide health care costs and less taxpayer burden. Again, this seems like a clear connection to make. The unfortunate truth is that clarity has never been a strength of bureaucratic organizations, and the political pessimist in me says our governments are no different.
I was taken down this road by some of the recent legislation, both proposed and in enacted in states like New York, that call for special taxes on food that has been deemed responsible for our society’s collectively poor health status. The latest one to catch my eye was based on a study that postulated how adding a special tax on soda and pizza could produce a collective five-pound weight loss per person.
Good idea, because if we look at other health issues based on poor consumption choices, such as alcohol and tobacco for example, less frequent use obviously starts with the higher taxes on cigarettes and spirits. Sorry, but in my humble opinion those who choose to abuse their bodies with an influx of poor eating decisions will not be hindered by higher costs for Mountain Dew and Pizza Hut.
Rather, the ones who will feel the pinch are the companies in the production and service industries who provide these products to those who like the occasional soft drink, slice of pizza for lunch or combination of the two during the upcoming NCAA basketball tournament. If the government is really serious about focusing their efforts on healthier lifestyles, instead of punishing the collective, how about offering individual rewards and incentives like:
- Flex-spending accounts for fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Income tax deductions for health club memberships and exercise equipment.
- Insurance company subsidies that can be passed along to their customers based on the use of both of these programs.
The problem is that these approaches would mask the true intentions of the proposed tax, which is nothing more than a revenue stream that will extract funds in a manner difficult for any political opponent to combat. If there was really a focus on improving overall health care, the onus would come back to individual programs, not broad-strokes that will fail to impact those for whom they are primarily intended.
Those who have always slammed a six-pack of soda and eaten pizza ten times a week will continue to do so. In case you need proof, just ask those congregating in the smoking area how much recent cigarette price increases have weighed on their purchasing decisions.
Just like all of you the thought of additional taxes frustrate me, but even more so in this context because they don’t deal with the individual problems plaguing our health care system. Yes, we as a society need to eat better. We need to lose weight. We need to be accountable for the problems we’ve created. But this starts with individual responsibility for one’s actions. If you’re going to gorge on a Chicago-style with three cheeses and four meats, then maybe get on the treadmill once or twice a week. If you’re going to rival in the caffeinated benefits of soda like I do every morning, then recognize that water throughout the day is going to be needed to help offset the high sugar intake.
The key to healthier living and unregulated eating is basically moderation. I find little wrong in eating some of the “bad” stuff once in a while, but it’s the desire to go overboard or considering the consequences that gets all of us in trouble. Granted, these are personal choices that can have a far-reaching impact on our health care system, but the focus still needs to remain on encouraging better individual decisions, not force-feeding new penalties to the general public.