Denmark: you can be good without fat

Okay, Denmark and Sweden are two societies that I admire, two reasons being that they have copious social services to support their citizens, and they’re a largely godless society (these two facts that may not be unconnected; see Phil Zuckerman’s study of these two countries, Society without God.)  But now Denmark has gone too far with its social nanny-ing, for they’re about to tax fatty foods.  According to the BBC:

Denmark has introduced what is believed to be the world’s first fat tax – a surcharge on foods that are high in saturated fat.

Butter, milk, cheese, pizza, meat, oil and processed food are now subject to the tax if they contain more than 2.3% saturated fat.

But that’s not the end:

Danish officials say they hope the new tax will help limit the population’s intake of fatty foods.

However, some scientists think saturated fat may be the wrong target.

They say salt, sugar and refined carbohydrates are more detrimental to health and should be tackled instead.

Yes, this is what we in America have to look forward to: taxes on salt, fat, bread, and sugar.  (Do remember that it was the British tax on salt in India that inspired its citizens to revolt and led the British to leave.)

Once you start taxing things that are bad for you, just because they’re bad for you, there’s no end to it.

h/t: otter

105 Comments

  1. Posted October 2, 2011 at 5:40 am | Permalink

    Denmark has had a tax on sugar for several years – a tax which increased at the same time as this new tax kicked in.

  2. Posted October 2, 2011 at 5:41 am | Permalink

    JAC:

    Once you start taxing things that are bad for you, just because they’re bad for you, there’s no end to it.

    I suppose it’s an extension of principle of taxing tobacco and alcohol. I’m not sure saturated fat is in the same health category, though — and moderate amounts of alcohol might actually be good for you, anyway.

    • Tulse
      Posted October 2, 2011 at 9:01 am | Permalink

      You’d prefer they outright outlaw things that are bad for you? Are you going to advocate for lead-based paint and arsenic in kids toys and opium in over-the-counter tinctures?

      I understand the concern of government over-reach, but the bare statement of “Once you start taxing things that are bad for you, just because they’re bad for you, there’s no end to it” is naively libertarian.

      • Posted October 3, 2011 at 2:24 am | Permalink

        I don’t think outlawing drugs, for example, works very well. Basically it just creates a criminal element to supply those now-illegal products.

        As to unsafe consumer products: sometimes, yes, especially if safer substitutes are available (such as your paint example).

    • Ichthyic
      Posted October 2, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      yeah, the principle of taxing alcohol here in NZ hasn’t exactly worked as planned…

      teenage alcoholism rates have never been higher, even though your standard pub beer is 8 bucks, and a six-pack from the store is around 12 bucks or more. A 750 ml bottle of cheap rum is 60 bucks.

      …and half of that price is the government alcohol tax, which they actually are thinking of raising, AGAIN.

  3. MikeW
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 5:46 am | Permalink

    And I thought the US was just taxing my credulity.

  4. swd
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 5:49 am | Permalink

    Phil Zuckerman (not Zimmerman), “Society without God.”

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted October 2, 2011 at 5:52 am | Permalink

      Whoops! Corrected, thanks.

  5. daveau
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    All the taxes in the world (and believe me we pay plenty here in Chicago and Cook County) haven’t stopped my from consuming alcohol or my friends from smoking. Why not start at the source of unhealthy factory farming, such as Cargill & ADM? The early 70s when they started taking over the farm system is when the obesity epidemic began. But, of course, what’s good for business is good for ‘merica.

    • daveau
      Posted October 2, 2011 at 6:06 am | Permalink

      I could probably spell “me” if I wasn’t drunk already. What wine goes with huevos rancheros? (kidding…)

      • Posted October 2, 2011 at 8:16 am | Permalink

        perhaps a nice breakfast sangria?

        • daveau
          Posted October 2, 2011 at 8:26 am | Permalink

          Way past that and into the reposado…

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 5, 2011 at 12:37 am | Permalink

      Hear, hear. Consumer taxes are the equivalent of occasional, high-profile illegal alien round-ups, while scrupulously avoiding enforcing any legal responsibilities of their employers.

  6. godskesen
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    This Dane is perfectly happy with our new tax. It’s in line with traditional Danish politics and (assuming that saturated fats are as bad as some scientists have found) I think it is a completely reasonable way of addressing issues of public health.

    I only have one possible concern: If saturated fats are more often found in cheap foodstuffs (and I have no idea if they are) then this tax will disproportionately affect people who can only afford the cheapest of foods thus increasing their basic living costs, reducing their standard of living, and probably their general well-being as well.

    I don’t want that. In that case I would want to look around for other ways of managing public health. Those are my two cents.

    • CW
      Posted October 2, 2011 at 7:44 am | Permalink

      I agree. I like my social programs. I don’t mind paying taxes for them. If those income sources have a positive “social engineering” spin to them then I say it’s a win/win.

  7. Mathew Varidel
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    This seems like a good idea. Remember that bad diets result in a lot of health issues which means that people end up in hospitals. The money for hospitals then comes from the state. Where should this money come from? It seems perfectly reasonable to expect this money to come from the people partaking in the unhealthy products in the first place, thus taxing the unhealthy products will result in that. It should also curb obesity rates and unhealthy citizens.

    • Lotharloo
      Posted October 2, 2011 at 7:50 am | Permalink

      I completely agree. This form of taxation makes a lot of sense.

    • Torbjorn Larsson, OM
      Posted October 2, 2011 at 7:08 am | Permalink

      But those are meta-statistical studies.

      Until you show me one study showing meta-analysis are valid, I wouldn’t accept them without doubt. And I am not aware of any such studies, people seem to take these methods for granted.

      Epidemic studies seems to show dramatic good effects, easily. If lowered sodium intake lower both hypertension _and_ obesity (by making people cut down on sweetened beverages), what is the problem? Likely in those meta-studies.

      • Marella
        Posted October 2, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

        The thing with population wide effects is that even a small percentage improvement can have large impacts on things like heart attacks and strokes. If you can bring down the blood pressure of the pop by an average of a few percent this can translate to thousands of stroke averted with associated savings in health costs. Add to that the taxes raised and you’ve got a pretty much win win situation, so long as you’ve got your health data right and the public doesn’t rebel.

  8. Tim
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    Once you start taxing things that are bad for you, just because they’re bad for you, there’s no end to it.

    Since you have to have a certain level of taxation, it seems like the best way to levy taxes is to tax things that are bad for you, me, or us.

    • Mathew Varidel
      Posted October 2, 2011 at 6:57 am | Permalink

      Good point, Tim. Especially if the idea of taxes is to offer services (especially health services) for the community – why not prevent some of the need for these services by reducing bad habits.

      • Ichthyic
        Posted October 2, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

        along those lines, I’d add that here in NZ, where everything bad for you is taxed to hell and back, the proceeds from speeding tickets and other moving violations actually go straight to the government general cash pool, just like taxes.

        big arguments about hidden speed cameras being little more than revenue generation devices, but the principle still holds; they do seem to firmly believe here that bad behavior should pay for the costs of that bad behavior for everyone.

        • Ichthyic
          Posted October 2, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

          of course, not everyone agrees on what “bad behavior” is, and therein lies the rub.

          • Mathew Varidel
            Posted October 2, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

            I’m in Australia and we have similar laws. And yes, I agree that some laws are just revenue raising. For example, I once got fined for not parking rear to curb for about $100 – I’m still annoyed about it. It’s hard to figure out how that’s bad behaviour that the law has to prevent. Used appropriately though, I think taxes like this covering the amount needed for health services is appropriate. But you probably then have to lower taxes elsewhere.

    • penn
      Posted October 2, 2011 at 7:04 am | Permalink

      That’s what I was thinking. Taxation is primarily about raising revenue for government services. If you can discourage “bad” behaviors and encourage “good” behaviors in the process, that’s a bonus. Why is a tax on saturated fat any worse than income or property taxes for raising revenue?

      • MadScientist
        Posted October 2, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

        Governments are spendthrift (and therefore the ever-growing and insatiable appetite for increased taxation). Government expenditure needs to be reigned in.

      • Marella
        Posted October 2, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

        Because the poor spend a larger percentage of their income on food and therefore such taxes are regressive.

        • Diane G.
          Posted October 5, 2011 at 12:39 am | Permalink

          + 1

  9. Torbjorn Larsson, OM
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    Once you start taxing things that are bad for you, just because they’re bad for you, there’s no end to it.

    Of course not, that is why this is standard routine in Scandinavia at least.

    We [Sweden] have had taxes on alcohol and later nicotine products for years. That has been supplemented by taxes on salt, sugar and various food stuffs that are deleterious if consumed in too large quantity.

    The latest is not, like Denmark, taxes on saturated fat but, I think, on transfats.* We have had less of a control on those compared to Denmark and now the politicians want to chip [sic!] in with compensating regulation.

    Of course you can make some ludicrous argument that you are infringing on the freedom of individuals or partaking in “socialistic” governing. =D But as long as these nations have democratically chosen governments, that argument should not leave the start blocks.

    —————
    * Honestly, can’t keep up with all the different taxes. We had a government that pulled out all of the complicated taxes (but they have crept back). But I think never these special health taxes.

    • Somite
      Posted October 2, 2011 at 9:27 am | Permalink

      We in the US must look rather insane to the Danes. It has always been interesting to me why in the US freedom is not freedom unless it includes the ability to harm others and yourself.

      • Posted October 7, 2011 at 8:29 am | Permalink

        What an interesting way of saying that. I know you are right it is just the way you said that hit me like a ton of bricks.

        I am not a Dane, but yes, the US does look rather insane to me.

        As regards taxing of deleterious foods, the tax would be better applied to companies (probably all by this time) that add fructose to their prepared foodstuffs. Fructose is not only bad for your liver (stretched to the max by modern diets anyway) it appears to be addictive which makes it a double whammy.

        Public Health departments all over the world have a hard time juggling good food labelling and politics and big business with, well, good food.

        It is very hard to ban substances added to processed foods because of the pressures of profit. Sigh.

    • Pete Cockerell
      Posted October 2, 2011 at 9:31 am | Permalink

      Torbjorn, I agree with your points, but really I just wanted to say how impressed I am that you’re making puns in a language that isn’t even your native one. Good job!

  10. Greg
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    The interesting thing to note is that Sweden has swung the other direction. There was a rather high profile case where a doctor was prescribing high-fat, low-carbohydrate diets to overweight patients. Other doctors found out and sued her for malpractice. The Swedish equivalent of our FDA did a thorough objective review of the science and concluded that these diets are safe and effective. It’s caused a huge shift in Sweden, to the point that butter, a previously flagging commodity, is now in a shortage, and up to 25% or so of the Swedish population has shifted to a low-carb, high-fat diet. Fascinating stuff.

  11. Posted October 2, 2011 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    I think, rather than telling people to stop eating addictive types of foods, we’d be a lot better encouraging them to eat more fresh produce.

    Somebody who’s hungry and who has a satisfying source of energy-rich calories at hand is going to eat it.

    Somebody who starts every meal off with a generous bowl of salad and eats fresh fruit for dessert is going to be much less hungry for the bad stuff in the first place. As a bonus, the fiber and nutrients in the produce will serve to block the absorption of and otherwise counteract the bad effects of the unhealthy foods.

    If I were Prince of Denmark, every penny of this tax would be used to reduce retail costs of fresh produce (assuming I didn’t simply repeal the tax in the first place).

    Cheers,

    b&

    • daveau
      Posted October 2, 2011 at 9:40 am | Permalink

      This was my other thought. Reduce the price of healthy foods. But how will this work in the US when you can get a fake cheese crapburger for $1? As always the poor suffer disproportionately.

      • Posted October 2, 2011 at 9:49 am | Permalink

        It isn’t universally so, but it seems to me the overall trend is that healthy foods are more expensive than unhealthy foods.

        Regular old pasta is pretty cheap. But lower-glycemic index and more nutritious whole grain pasta is more expensive.

        Your average salami, bologna and similar heart-attacks disguised as culinary disasters are cheap. Low-fat, low-sodium meats are expensive.

        Etc.

        It does suck to be poor.

        • Posted October 2, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

          I’m not so sure I buy into that argument nearly so much as I used to.

          In the ‘fridge for dinner tonight is a package of chicken thighs and a plastic jug of mirepoix. It’s a half-dozen thighs for $4.10, and a 14.5 oz jug of mirepoix for $2.99. Both will be tossed in a pressure cooker. I’ll add a teaspoon of salt, some pepper, a healthy sprinkling of dill, a splash of three buck Chuck, the last of the broth from last week’s batch, and cover it all with water. A while later, I’ll have a darned good pot of soup, with enough for a half-dozen servings. (Only tonight is likely to be soup; the rest of the meat is for salads, casseroles, whatever.)

          That’s under $8 for a half-dozen good hearty meals — and that’s with me being lazy in buying the mirepoix in a waaaay overpriced plastic jug. Or, under $8 for a family of four, with two of them being active teenagers. And trivial to prepare, with the whole thing taking about as long from when one would pick up the phone to when the pizza guy would arrive.

          (You might want a carbohydrate to go with it; if so, you can go expensive and spend a couple bucks on a package of noodles that’ll last for at least a few such meals, or you can go cheap and get a 50# bag of rice for $25.)

          No, whatever the problem is with bad diet, money isn’t the problem — and neither is time nor skill.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Posted October 2, 2011 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

            Which is why I acknowledged that it isn’t universally so.

            But even in your example, thigh-meat is much higher in fat than breast-meat, and breasts are more expensive.

            But now I’m in the mood for a good, hearty chicken noodle soup. Why don’t you send me of your creation? Sounds delicious!

      • Posted October 2, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

        Even at Whole Paycheck prices, there isn’t $1 of meat in that fake cheese crapburger.

        That’s the part I don’t get.

        You can have a gourmet barbecue cookout feast for about as much as you’ll spend in the McDogshit drive-through. And we’re talking hamburgers, here — it’s not like that requires any sort of skill to cook. Hell, if you need to learn how, they’ll pay you (granted, at minimum wage) how to do it at McDogshit.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Marella
          Posted October 2, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

          It’s not just about the price it’s about convenience. A healthy diet requires more effort, meat and veg have to be cooked (as you describe), they have a tendency to go off if not frozen etc. It just requires more organization and time. It is also more expensive. I try to eat low carb but it’s very difficult, everywhere you go are paninis and cakes and pasta. Think of the price difference between a nice chicken salad or toasted sandwich for lunch. You can bring lunch from home (if you’re not socialising) but there we are back to convenience again.

          • Diane G.
            Posted October 5, 2011 at 12:46 am | Permalink

            Plus getting things dirty & having to clean up again and again and again…

        • Kharamatha
          Posted October 3, 2011 at 11:21 am | Permalink

          I burned butter in a pan. Just putting that out there.

    • Posted October 2, 2011 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      You would also have a pretty snappy march to call your own.

      • daveau
        Posted October 2, 2011 at 10:42 am | Permalink

        Hail, Hail Freedonia?

  12. Greg Esres
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    What I want to know is whether or not these disincentives actually work, or merely produce revenue.

    • Marella
      Posted October 2, 2011 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

      Look at the graphs on cigarette taxes, they work, in fact they are almost the only thing that does. Taxes and laws restricting where you can smoke have caused smoking declines. Ad campaigns and exhortations to stop smoking, eat healthily and get more exercise achieve precisely nothing.

  13. christopher
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    this is such a ‘meh’ topic. yes, they should use the tax to subsidize fruit and veg production if they have to, we should stop subsidies to meat corn crap food producers here, but really, i just cant care enough to be upset. the guv’mentalready taxes mythree food groups all to non-existant hell (lager, ale, redwine) so why not make fat people as miserably over-taxed as us drunks?! of course, it might force jerry to resort to making bathtub pie and selling it to sugar junkies in speakeasies.

  14. Etcetera
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Denmark isn’t the U.S. This simply wouldn’t fly in the U.S. because there are so many people who live in food deserts. There are places where the only food available is high-fat, high -salt, highly-processed junk. It would essentially be another tax on the poor.

    In fact, I’m surprised the Republicans haven’t proposed that yet…

    • Kharamatha
      Posted October 3, 2011 at 11:23 am | Permalink

      Haven’t they?

  15. Peter Hoffman
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Your last sentence sounds peculiarly ‘U.S.ish’ (I won’t use the Monroe doctrine ‘american’ term, even if most U.S.ers are ignorant of the usual geographical meaning of “America”), and also sounds incorrect. As has been pointed out, it seems perfectly reasonable to tax something which adds cost to healthcare in a country where that is provided mainly by the government.

    Whether it really does add is a separate question. It has been argued that those who stuff themselves with certain substances and thereby die at a younger age are actually going to use up less healthcare costs. But that’s a different issue from that unfortunate last sentence in the blog.

  16. eheffa
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    There is NO good evidence that saturated fats contribute to obesity or atherosclerosis. A better case can be made for high carbohydrate and sugar intake causing our epidemic of obesity.

    For a very interesting read see: Gary Taubes’ books: ‘Why we get Fat and What to do about it’ or a more complete analysis of this subject: ‘Good Calories, Bad Calories’. The insulin fat hypothesis is likely a little simplistic but there is no doubt that reducing carbohydrate intake (particularly grains and sugars)and increasing saturated fat and protein intake (a la paleolithic style diets), will result in significant weight and fat loss.

    -evan

    • Posted October 2, 2011 at 11:13 am | Permalink

      Of course not; that is why when you type “saturated fat cardiovascular disease” into PubMed you get 1853 hits… No evidence at all…

      • Jason
        Posted October 2, 2011 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

        Since when is a google search considered scientific evidence?

        • TrineBM
          Posted October 2, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

          I think what Theshortearedowl meant was to write it in the search machine of PubMed, not Google. That would make a difference. Correct me if I understood that in the wrong way.

          • Posted October 3, 2011 at 6:00 am | Permalink

            Yeah, P-u-b-M-e-d that spells… Google! No wait…

            • TrineBM
              Posted October 3, 2011 at 6:04 am | Permalink

              🙂

      • eheffa
        Posted October 2, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

        Try actually reading that literature. Many many investigators have attempted to show that dietary saturated fats and cholesterol are associated with increased risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease etc. The studies have in general failed to show a link. The results though do not show that dietary saturated fats and cholesterol increase the risk of atherosclerosis. On the other hand, there is good evidence that a high intake of grain-based carbohydrates and sugars, (particularly fructose), can be shown to increase your risk of obesity, metabolic syndrome, Diabetes, coronary artery disease etc.

        If you think I am just pulling this out of the air, you should read Taubes’ books. They discuss the evidence for this in great detail. They are very well referenced and worthy of consideration.

        Also consider reading online: Marks Daily Apple or robbwolf.com for further rationale as to why a high fat, high protein diet will be healthier than a high carb, low fat diet.

        On a personal note; On the strength of the evidence, I tried changing my own diet to a low carb, (avoiding grain based carbs and sugars), high fat, high protein routine. (Lots of veggies, meats, fish, cheese, butter etc.) I eat as much as my appetite leads me. I am happy with the variety and enjoy my food. This has allowed me to lose weight over the past 9 months from 196 lbs. to 170 lbs and drop my Triglycerides and LDL cholesterol at the same time. I am eating bacon & eggs 3-4 times per week and seeing my LDL cholesterol values drop – try and make sense of that with the Ansell Keys paradigm.

        This is an N of one so not scientific but if you are interested in the science, read Taubes & go from there.

        -evan

        • Posted October 3, 2011 at 8:43 am | Permalink

          Sure, we can read some.

          The effects of dietary weight loss with or without exercise training on liver enzymes in obese metabolic syndrome subjects. “change in dietary saturated fat intake was independently associated with ΔALT (r=0.35, P=0.03)” (Diabetes Obes Metab. 2011) [That’s a liver enzyme test, btw.]

          Dietary saturated fat/cholesterol, but not unsaturated fat or starch, induces C-reactive protein associated early atherosclerosis and ectopic fat deposition in diabetic pigs. (Cardiovasc Diabetol. 2011)

          Reduced or modified dietary fat for preventing cardiovascular disease. “This updated review suggested that reducing saturated fat by reducing and/or modifying dietary fat reduced the risk of cardiovascular events by 14% (RR 0.86, 95% CI 0.77 to 0.96, 24 comparisons, 65,508 participants of whom 7% had a cardiovascular event, I(2) 50%).” (Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011)

          These are just handful from the first page of results (ordered backwards by date, hence all this year).

          I see your pop science diet book and raise you REAL science. (Congrats on your personal successes btw. If you successfully reduce your total calorie intake by limiting your food choices, you will lose adiposity and hence improve your blood lipid stats; nothing paradoxical here.)

  17. Filippo
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Should there be a tax on corporate coal-fired steam and electric plants?

  18. Posted October 2, 2011 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    Hmm, so by the same token you’d be against taxing tobacco and alcohol?

    There is one difference though, which you don’t really mention. There is remarkably little firm knowledge about what foods are good for you and which aren’t. That’s now what you’d think from the huge amount that’s written on the topic, but it’s true. The problem is that it is almost impossible to do randomised trials of diet. When they have been attempted they usually show only small effects, but of course they have to be short term.

    One of the best accounts of the causality problem was given, not by a scientist in a journal, but by a journalist, Gary Taubes, in the New York Times.
    http://www.dcscience.net/taubes-HRT-nyt.pdf

    When I went into one case of harm done by eating processed meat. I found the evidence for causality was pathetic.
    http://www.dcscience.net/?p=1435

    There is a real danger that scientists will cause bad social policy by exaggerating what they can measure. Just look at IQ.

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 5, 2011 at 12:50 am | Permalink

      Exactly.

  19. Posted October 2, 2011 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    I’m in favour of higher taxes on things like alcohol and cigarettes. I really don’t see a downside, especially when the money is then used to fund programs to help people whose health suffers from too much of these things.

    But a ban on fatty foods seems… premature. Nutrition is one area where we don’t know a whole lot (or, at the very least, much of what we know is highly contended). Fat is a perfect example, with many people saying that fat isn’t actually what causes health problems (and may have benefits, such as lowering cholesterol). It’s all the other stuff that people with poor diets tend to eat that causes the issues.

    • TrineBM
      Posted October 2, 2011 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      It’s not a ban. It’s a higher tax.

    • Dave
      Posted October 2, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      ” I really don’t see a downside, especially when the money is then used to fund programs to help people whose health suffers from too much of these things.” Yes, that’s always the noble reason for suing tobacco companies but the windfall likely goes into state coffers and little of it gets used for the stated purpose, I’d guess.

  20. DIck Veldkamp
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    As far as government measures go, I think taxation is a rather ‘non-interfering’ way of doing things. After all, the government does not forbid you anything, you may still consume as much alcohol (tobacco, fat, sugar, ..) as you want.

    Note how a tax also neatly solves the problem of admission to public health services. Should you admit somebody for long cancer treatment if he has been smoking for 20 years, in spite of having been warned repeatedly? Remember the treatment costs money that could have been used to treat somebody with a healthy lifestyle.

    With taxation, everybody has ‘paid for his sins’ already, so you entirely avoid this difficult discussion.

    • MadScientist
      Posted October 2, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      You are also making very bad assumptions based on faulty understanding of statistics. Let’s say there is Condition X whose general rate in the population is 1 in 30 (P0 = 0.033, or 3.3%). Now a study shows that “fat is linked to a 50% increase in risk compared to no-fat groups”. Without more information we can only guess at what Pfat and Pnonfat are. If you state “fat is linked to a 50% increase in risk compared to the general population”, then the risk of condition X will be 0.033*1.5 = 0.050. Now there aren’t that many serious illnesses with a rate of 1/30 and not many cases in which the “increased risk due to fat” is anywhere near 50%. And yet all the blame is being shifted onto people suffering Condition X simply because they happen to be fat. If a normal person gets X, oh poor suffering soul – but if a fat person gets X it’s “stupid cow, they’ve been told a million times fat is no good.” That attitude of blaming the victim is bad enough even if we imagined that fat resulted in a 100% increase in risk, but in the majority of cases where the hyped up links to fat amount to something like a claimed mere 2% increase in risk it’s simply unbelievably bad thinking and people are being denigrated for suffering a condition which they would most likely have developed even if they weren’t fat.

      There’s also the conflation of fat in diet and fat people. You can get to Moby Dick proportions without eating much fat.

  21. Pablo M. H.
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Once you have a functioning public healthcare system, it makes perfect sense to tax food (or anything else) that puts you at a higher risk for any disease. Otherwise, responsible taxpayers would end up subsidizing out-of-control gluttons when diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke kick in, driving up the cost of healthcare for everybody. Not fair.

    It’s the exact same principle that private health insurers apply when they adjust primes according to current health status. Higher risk, higher costs, which means higher primes (private) or higher taxes (public). You just can’t have your cake and eat it (second law of thermodynamics).

    • MadScientist
      Posted October 2, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

      The diseases you list are not exclusive to fat people. In fact in the case of diabetes the picture is severely distorted – so much so that people imagine every diabetic of every type must be to blame for their own body’s malfunction because they must be fatsos. A tax will not fix anything (take note of the current figures and check again in 5 or 10 years). Diet is not the sole cause of obesity, and to think that fat in the diet is a large contributing cause to obesity is extremely defective thinking – it is the sort of thinking that makes people susceptible to the myriad fad diets.

      • Pablo M. H.
        Posted October 2, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

        You missed the point. Of course, none of those conditions is exclusively linked to obesity (I never said that), but it’s undeniable that poor dietary choices and sedentariness account for a large number of cases of obesity, late-onset diabetes and metabolic syndrome, with all their secondary complications. That’s just a fact.

        It’s also quite obvious that this form of taxation is not designed to change compulsive behaviors on its own. That may or may not happen, but if it doesn’t, you still generate revenue to cover higher healthcare costs resulting from otherwise preventable diseases.

        If your poor lifestyle choices end up raising healthcare costs for everybody else, this is a good way to make you pay your fair share. That’s it.

  22. TrineBM
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Dane chiming in. I think our taxes on nicotine, alcohol, sugar and perfume are a perfectly fine way to get money for the state. Tax is in fact a SPLENDID way to do that.
    I’d like to see more scientific proof that this particular tax is going to make the population healthier, but all in all, I think it’s a damn good idea.
    And it is very, very difficult for me to see that ANY measures taken to stop the obesity epidemic can be a bad thing. If it is scientifically proven, that this fat-tax has no influence, then of course I hope that they’ll drop it immediately.
    And remember, an extra tax is not a prohibition. As with anything in Danish politics: you never have black and white – you always have a mix of grayish colours. But who knows? We now have a new government with a female Socialdemocrat in front. We might be in for some (much needed) changes 🙂

    • MadScientist
      Posted October 2, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

      But you assume that there is an “obesity epidemic”. Is there one, and why do you want to tell other people how to live?

      • TrineBM
        Posted October 2, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

        You are right – I was a bit too hasty in that comment. What I meant to say is this: There has been an increase of overweight young people in Denmark in the last 30-40 years, there has been an increase of overweight and obese adults in the same time-period. The number I’ve seen are from a report – in Danish – from the Danish council for Fitness and Nutrition from 2003, title is “Den danske fedmeepidemi” which translates to “The Danish obesity epidemic”. So, 8 years ago a governmental Danish council gave out a report that showed that the problem is there. A lot of things are being done to stop the further development of obesity in the population: education, campaigns etc., and now they’re going for a fat-tax. Make sense to me. And I repeat: IF it is proven that fat has nothing to do with it – then I hope they’ll remove the tax ASAP

      • Marella
        Posted October 2, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

        There is definitely an obesity epidemic, it started in about 1970 and obesity rates in the west have been climbing ever since. There is some indication that rates are leveling off in the last few years but it’s too early to be sure. Note that 1970 was around the time we all started to be told to eat a low fat diet. It was also around the time we all started to give up smoking.

        • Diane G.
          Posted October 5, 2011 at 12:52 am | Permalink

          Touche! 😀

  23. bensix
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    I don’t know enough about the science to tell whether these guys have a point or not but I’m not sure anybody doubts that harm that cigs and booze does.

  24. Dave
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    Of course, the next step is to start suing companies producing foods containing saturated fat, if the analogy with tobacco holds.

    • MadScientist
      Posted October 2, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      Not to mention the propaganda campaigns that “fat does no harm”, “fat is good for you”, and “enjoy the refreshing taste of menthol fat”.

  25. MadScientist
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    I just see it as yet another government gimmick to claw money from its citizens. The mantra of an “epidemic of unhealthiness” runs wild. Every time someone does another health survey of some sort they turn up something like “bein’ a fatso increases the risk of X” whenever fatsos seem to develop X, say, at a rate 0.5% higher than non-fatsos. Even where there is a statistical significance to the figure, in most cases “increased risk” is nothing but a scare tactic. Who the hell cares if there’s, say, a 2% higher likelihood in something with a risk rate of about 1 in 10,000 or so.

    At any rate, it remains to be seen if this legislation results in a significant decrease in fatsoness. If not, the legislation should be scrapped and all the fatsos should be reimbursed for their additional expenses over the years.

  26. Posted October 2, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    I just see it as yet another government gimmick to claw money from its citizens.

    That would be wrong. The same government who introduced this tax also reduced the income taxes, so it is rather a retribution of taxes.

    Also, Denmark has a long history of trying to affect behavior through targeted taxes (e.g. we pay 180% taxes on cars – before the 25% sales tax).

  27. Posted October 2, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    retribution = redistribution of course.

  28. Circe
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Off topic, but couldn’t help notice the (intentional) serendipity.

    Do remember that it was the British tax on salt in India that inspired its citizens to revolt and led the British to leave.

    Today happens to be the birthday of the man who led one of the most dramatic and iconic movemnets in the Indian struggle for freedom.

    • Circe
      Posted October 2, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

      movemnets -> movements

      • Kharamatha
        Posted October 3, 2011 at 11:33 am | Permalink

        Nah, move ’em nets too.

  29. Jeff Johnson
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    Most people who favor legalizing currently controlled substances are not averse to replacing criminal penalties with taxation. This makes sense if revenue from drug sales goes toward addressing health issues and providing rehab services for abusers.

    Especially in a setting like Denmark, where the state has a compelling financial interest in controlling health care costs, it makes sense to tax substances whose consumption contribute to bad health. Deciding exactly what to tax, and how much to tax it in order to cover the health care burden caused by consumption seems like a very hard problem though.

    • Kharamatha
      Posted October 3, 2011 at 11:35 am | Permalink

      Legalise; regulate; tax.
      Legalise; regulate; tax.
      Legalise; regulate; tax.

  30. Marella
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    While the obesity epidemic is a huge problem in the west, and increasingly in developing countries, the cause is not at all well understood. Fat, sugar, lack of exercise, poverty, and giving up smoking have all been cited as reasons for increasing obesity.

    Sugar is clearly very deleterious and quite unnecessary for satisfactory nutrition but fat is not an optional part of the human diet. Fat is necessary for health, all your cell membranes are made of cholesterol for example, which makes this qualitatively different from taxing things like cigarettes and alcohol. Also there is no doubt that taxing food is regressive, the poor pay more of their incomes for food than the rich. On the other hand the poor are fatter than the rich, which would seem to imply that we need measures that target them. Whether taxing their food and making them effectively poorer is ethically sound or likely to be effective is another matter. To starve them back to slenderness seems difficult to defend to me. I think subsidising the cost of fruit and veg and unprocessed meats is a more ethical way of helping people get thinner than taxing fat, especially since the evidence that a high fat diet is deleterious to health is so poor. Low fat diets are inevitably high carb diets, and many low fat processed foods are high in sugar in an attempt provide flavour, this is not an improvement.

    Sugar on the other hand is clearly a better candidate for a health tax, especially sugary drinks like soda, and IMHO fruit juice, which is one the greatest cons of the twentieth century. It’s just sugary water with a few vitamins, it’s rubbish. Several states in the US already have small taxes on soda. It’s also simpler to tax sugar than fat. You can just tax it straight out of the factory or on import.

    I’m amazed the Danes are so sanguine about a tax on cheese, it’s practically the national food isn’t it, and it’s already very expensive, for the good stuff anyway. Well it will be very interesting for the epidemiologists and nutritionists to see what the outcome of this tax is, assuming they can figure it out amongst all the confounding factors. I’m glad I’m not being the guinea pig for this one, I expect it to have no effect on obesity rates or even make things worse, as sugar and other carbs replace fats in the Danish diet. We shall see.

    • Posted October 2, 2011 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

      As I said upthread, Denmark has had a tax on sugar for several years.

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 5, 2011 at 12:55 am | Permalink

      And what will happen to the butter cookie industry?!

  31. Dawn Oz
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    Yes, the food issue is complex – special foods became everyday foods where fat and sugar are often combined. I’ll see the tax as a hypothesis so they can measure any effect. And it is interesting that around the world, the poor and/or the uneducated eat more mindlessly. And thanks to Circe for noting that today is Gandhi’s birthday.

    • Dawn Oz
      Posted October 2, 2011 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

      In Australia, we have RN (Radio National), which specialises in uptodate info. On the well respected ‘HEALTH REPORT’, it was stated that the obesity epidemic stemmed from the 60s due to the mass production of energy rich foods. Here is the transcript.

      http://www.abc.net.au/rn/healthreport/stories/2011/3308926.htm

  32. TrineBM
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

    So today at my local bakery, there was a sign at the counter: “Due to the new fat-tax we have to raise the price on all cakes that are baked with more than a (certain amount) of fat. blabla We will not compromise on quality, so the price has to go up.” So the only things affected were the cakes. All the black rye bread, the wholegrain, the fresh warm breads in the bakery – no difference in price. I think I must be so Danish in my head that I really, honestly support any taxation on stuff that you can do without: alcohol, chocolate, perfume, cakes, fat. And can I repeat: it’s just an extra tax – there are no bans involved.
    I do doubt however that the taxes have any preventive effect. We have a high tax on alcohol – and we still drink more than most other nations on earth. But the money goes to the state 😉

  33. Posted October 3, 2011 at 3:55 am | Permalink

    I think that this is a “market correction” tax. The idea (I think) that in a society in which taxes help out with medical costs, those who run a higher risk of running up the medical costs pay for that risk.

    I just read an article on how, in the United States, we use too much coal powered electricity because consumers don’t pay for the environmental damage done by coal (it was from the Paul Krugman NYT blog).

  34. pete
    Posted October 3, 2011 at 4:13 am | Permalink

    Perhaps if there weren’t so many lard arses “walking” about with their stomaches in wheel barrows

  35. eheffa
    Posted October 3, 2011 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    @ Owl

    (Perhaps I should mention that I am a physician (Anesthesiologist)and do know a little about liver enzymes etc. )

    I stand corrected. There is some evidence that saturated fats found in a highly processed Western diet contribute to CVS disease but that may be a simplistic conclusion. When we note that certain people groups such as Polynesians, Native American hunter-gatherers or the Inuit with traditional diets high in saturated fats have a virtually zero incidence of CVS atheromatous disease, one has to question the hypothesis that it is the saturated fat alone that is the culprit.

    The Cochrane database you cite is clearly a powerful meta-analysis but how many of the studies looking at saturated fat also included highly processed foodstuffs etc. (A few of the animal studies that people use to decry the ingestion of saturated fats also suffer from this limitation where ‘high fat rat chow’ is also very highly processed with significant percentages of corn solids etc.)

    A paper such as this:
    J Nutr. 2002 Jul;132(7):1879-85.
    A ketogenic diet favorably affects serum biomarkers for cardiovascular disease in normal-weight men.
    Sharman MJ, Kraemer WJ, Love DM, Avery NG, Gómez AL, Scheett TP, Volek JS.
    Source

    prompts one to ask how much we can confidently say that it is saturated fat vs. the actual food it is wrapped in that contributes to the atheroma.

    The traditional Mediterranean diet includes a high ingestion of Olive Oil (14% saturated fat) and yet is associated with reduced risk of CV disease. Do you have evidence that a diet high in traditional butters & cheeses is associated wiht increased risk of CVS Disease?

    I don’t think the answer is clear but I believe that Saturated fat is not the simple evil it has been made out to be.

    Taubes cites a lot of literature & to write his work off as “Pop Science” does him a disservice.

    -evan

    • Posted October 4, 2011 at 5:48 am | Permalink

      Thank you for that reply – I am always pleasantly when someone actually takes in new evidence and modifies their position based on it, especially on teh interwebz 🙂

      Of course saturated fat is only one part of this story (fructose being another, no question); but, all other things being equal, increased saturated fat intake does appear to increase risk of CV disease. I personally eat probably far more than the recommended; but I also exercise way above the average, and I tend to get anaemic if I don’t eat red meat. It’s all about finding a balance that’s right for you.

      That said, I have to call you out on the hunter-gatherer thing. That lifestyle has a huge number of differences to the average Western lifestyle that go way beyond saturated fat intake – especially exercise and total calories. And besides, what is their life expectancy, compared to the typical age of onset of CV disease?

      • eheffa
        Posted October 5, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

        Hi again,

        The Cochrane findings showed a 14% increase in CVS events without a change in risk of death. But I am not sure how well one can conclude that saturated fat is the culprit when we have no idea how they define saturated fats or try to stratify the quality of said fats. How were these saturated fats obtained? Grocery store Balogna or grass-fed beef? – there would be a big difference I would suggest. Were these saturated fats consumed with a high carbohydrate diet as well?

        I do not know this literature intimately and have not had the time to read the primary studies. (Maybe I should just shut up then; but that’s difficult for me as a rule 😉 We do know that many of these animal feeding studies are flawed by fact that they are not feeding their subjects real food but frankenfood mixtures where even the control animals succumb prematurely to their poor diet.
        (For one analysis of how animal study conclusions can be very flawed and not safely extrapolated to the risk of frequent consumption of the wonderful saturated fats in quality Danish cheese… see here:
        http://robbwolf.com/2011/08/18/of-mice-and-morons/

        For a more comprehensive review of the subject of saturated fat and risk of CVS disease see a nice summary here: (BTW: Not a strictly paleo site & an author who disagrees with Taubes’ Insulin-fat hypothesis)

        http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2011/01/does-dietary-saturated-fat-increase.html

        or here:

        http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2010/08/saturated-fat-consumption-still-isnt.html

        These are not Cochrane level metaanalyses but these large scale, long-term observational studies of *real humans eating *real food warrant some consideration. (Good DBRCT’s lacking.)

        As for the longevity of hunter-gather societies vs agrarian based contemporaries? Obviously, perinatal mortality, mortality from accidents and infectious disease would have taken a greater toll on more primitive societies. (I tried to find the reference but couldn’t – sorry.) Archeological data from a the Mississippi basin where contemporary cultures living in close proximity from an era prior to exposure to Western influences have been excavated and can be compared. It is clear that the agrarian tribes in close proximity to the hunter-gatherer tribes had a significantly higher incidence of dental caries, arthritis, malnutrition and premature death than did their hunter gatherer cousins.

        Other groups moving from high saturated fat diet to a Western diet show remarkable decreases in health and marked increases in heart disease, obesity, Diabetes etc. (e.g. Pima Indians of SW USA, or Polynesian groups in the South Pacific.)

        This is a huge topic with many experts much more qualified than me to speak to this, but the saturated fat paradigm is quite possibly dead wrong and this Danish Legislation would therefore be ill-founded.

        I may be wrong and I will try and keep an open mind, but this N of 1 has never felt better.

        -evan

  36. Posted October 3, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    A post in which Jerry criticizes a new tax using an unsupported slippery slope argument.

    Perhaps Jerry’s disregard for what food is bad for him (as evidenced by his posts on food) is clouding his reason.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted October 3, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

      Umm. . . I posted about a treat, not about my regular diet, so this comment is uncalled for (and snarky). Perhaps you’d like to see me post about carrots and broccoli?

      • Ichthyic
        Posted October 3, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

        Now that was uncalled for!

        I happen to love broccoli!

        😉

      • Posted October 4, 2011 at 12:20 am | Permalink

        My second paragraph was just a semi-serious possible explanation for what you wrote here (and it was based on your Food posts in general, not the singular post you seem to be referring to.) It was a throw-away comment; if I’m wrong, I’m wrong.

        However, the actual point of my comment (which I notice you do not rebut) is that your post is just an unsupported slippery slope argument. Where is the evidence for your statement: “Once you start taxing things that are bad for you, just because they’re bad for you, there’s no end to it”?

      • Posted October 4, 2011 at 3:03 am | Permalink

        “Perhaps you’d like to see me post about carrots and broccoli?”

        ARGGGGHHH!!!! NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!

        🙂

  37. Diane G.
    Posted October 5, 2011 at 12:58 am | Permalink

    The nanny state at its finest. These are the sort of initiatives that can almost make libertarianism attractive…

  38. Kristi
    Posted October 14, 2011 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Wait a minute. Taxing things that are bad for you?!?! “The tax on saturated fat outrages health-conscious individuals on many levels. One huge problem is the tax fails to distinguish between industrial junk foods and natural whole foods. Any food containing 2.3 percent or more saturated fat is included in the tax plan. The new tax targets commonly recognized junk foods like snack cakes and candy bars, but it also hits what many consider to be healthy foods, such as avocados, coconut oil and organic cheese and eggs. Organic whole milk, cod liver oil, and certain nuts and seeds also make the list. Whole food enthusiasts are understandably perturbed by this inclusion.”

    Learn more: http://www.naturalnews.com/033855_Denmark_food_tax.html#ixzz1am8TjY36

    We eat lots of eggs, coconut oil, pastured butter, and avocados. When did they become unhealthy?

    No government can say what is healthy and what is not. They have no clue. Now the Danes will get to eat lots of “low fat heart healthy” foods like us Americans. And look at how healthy we are! s/c


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  2. […] hadn’t heard this before, but it turns out that Denmark has enacted legislation to tax fatty foods. And to be honest, I’m torn on the subject of sin taxes.I regularly hear people say that we […]

  3. […] Another view is that some say fat is not the real culprit, it’s salt, sugar and refined carbohydrates. […]

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