This is a predictable (and predicted) development: people are now advocating levying hefty taxes on foods and drinks that contribute to obesity in order to help pay for health care. The underlying concept is that obesity has contributed mightily to increasing health care costs, so behavior that contributes to obesity should be discouraged. Taxes on cigarettes — which are now being viewed as a principal reason for the decline in cigarette smoking — are cited as a model to follow. Experts on taxes and behavioral modification argue that, to be effective, the taxes should amount to at least one-tenth to one-third of the item’s total cost.
I’m skeptical of taxes as a tool for behavioral modification because of their inefficiency, but I think the notion of “weight taxes” is pernicious for another reason. Any time the government gets to decide what kind of otherwise innocent conduct should be discouraged, we have given up significant freedoms. I enjoy a Butterfinger Blizzard now and then during the summer months. Why should I pay additional amounts in taxes simply because some bureaucrat has decided that ice cream is a significant contributor to obesity? If statistics show that joggers are more prone to sudden heart attacks, should athletic shoes be taxed? If mountain climbers are more likely to be caught in an avalanche, precipitating massive manhunts and search efforts, should mountain climbing be massively taxed to discourage such potentially costly behavior?
Let’s not kid ourselves — if the health Nazis ran the world, we would all be eating raw vegetables and participating in mandatory walking clubs and “wellness” counseling sessions. Do we really want Big Brother to decide what we should and shouldn’t eat and drink, how we should spend our leisure time, and generally how we should live our lives? I think a world without bacon double cheeseburgers and Frosted Flakes would be pretty dull, and I’m willing to put up with a bit of obesity to avoid that grim scenario.