Junk Food Taxes: The Answer to an Economic Problem?

Junk Food Taxes: The Answer to an Economic Problem?

Who would have thought that increasing taxes on junk food could possibly amount to a potential $2 billion dollars in the state's pocket? Why, government officials, of course. In Illinois, that's exactly what is being proposed by Governor Pat Quinn and Illinois Hospital Association Chief Maryjane Wurth. Why all the hype behind the junk food tax and how's it gonna help? Let's take a look at everything behind the reasoning, and then weigh in with your thoughts!

Reason Number One Behind the Junk Food Tax

The governor has proposed a $2 billion dollar cut in Medicaid. That's the gist of the big reason behind the junk food tax: money. If the governor's proposed cut goes through, the health care industry will have to cut 19,000 jobs...if nothing is done to make up for the difference.

So, of course, the hospital industry looked for a way to potentially save their hospitals from closure, and they came up with a junk food tax. The idea isn't new in any way – junk food is already taxed – but the taxes are expected to jump quite a bit to make up for such a huge budget cut.

Reason Number Two for Taxing Junk

Another reason that taxing junk food sounds so promising to the health industry is that they hope to discourage people from buying foods with little nourishing power. When people stop buying junk, their bodies should fare better. Supposedly, incidences of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes (to name a few diseases caused by or worsened by poor nutrition) will decrease if there's a large tax on sodas, candy, chips and other foods deemed "junky."

This just might be the case, though. When we think back to the beginning of cigarette tax spikes, we can see that people did begin to quit smoking when tobacco was heavily taxed. The same could occur with junk food. (I'm now awaiting the day when drinking a soda will become a social stigma that requires die-hard soda fans to sneak our sugar fixes outside behind the dumpster at work).

My Two Cents

I suppose taking junk food is a good idea when presented in this light, but when I first heard a blurb on my local news that the state would like to heavily increase the junk food tax, I thought it a little unfair. Who's to say a package of Oreos should cost twice as much as other foods? I like me my Oreos. Sigh. I might be baking more soon, I think.

In retrospect, though, I do think this is a relatively good idea. I do know that I would think twice about throwing a carton of ice cream into the cart if I have to shell out a ton of cash. I suppose my health would improve.

What do you think about a hefty junk food tax? Would you still pick up your favorite treat if it was heavily taxed?

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Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter's picture

Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter wrote:

Fri, 04/20/2012 - 13:35 Comment #: 1

I am with you. I think this is a great idea. If people can start to see that eating healthy costs less there will be much more incentive to do so.

AverageJoe's picture

AverageJoe wrote:

Fri, 04/20/2012 - 15:26 Comment #: 2

What a topic! This is such a large issue that I also don't know how to feel. I guess off the cuff (since you asked!) I have two thoughts:

- I don't want a government raising taxes in the name of my health. My health is my issue, not the governments, thank you.

- That aside, we have a definite problem when the cost of McDonalds is cheaper than the cost of fresh vegetables! People in poverty are driven through cost-cutting decisions to eat food that's simply crap...and then I have to pay for it in the health care system later.

How's that for conflicted? I'm curious to see what others think about this issue.

Michelle's picture

Michelle wrote:

Sun, 04/22/2012 - 19:04 Comment #: 3

Interesting. Might be good for the health of everyone as well. I don't eat a lot of junk food, but this would be nearly impossible to make completely fair. I mean, who's to say my gluten-free cookies with all-natural sugar (just an example...but there are many foods marketed as healthy junk food, kwim?) should or should not be taxed? I'm sure Oreos would get taxed...sorry, Christa! But what about the foods that are terrible for you but not marketed as junk food? Pancakes, for example! Same ingredients as cookies...only you fry them! How is that even fair? I'm not sure this could ever be, but at the same time...isn't it the overweight citizens that will be the most taxing on our system in the future? Won't those that eat a lot of processed junk food be the ones that end up with diabetes, heart disease, gout, high blood pressure, etc etc....?? I think it has the potential to be a really great idea, but it needs some work before it could ever be considered a viable option. On the other hand, I could say that the way we do things now isn't fair to those who wish to lead healthier lifestyles. Why should apples cost more than apple pie? Why is it the more you do to a food to deplete it of its natural fiber and nutrients, the cheaper it is? Food for thought!

Christa Palm's picture

Christa Palm wrote:

Mon, 04/23/2012 - 22:20 Comment #: 4

Miss T, I do think that taxing junk food could help people see the benefits of eating healthy. Kind of a forced realization that whole foods are better for us, right?

Average Joe: yes, the government should keep its sticky hands out of our wallets and our lives, but as you point out, when you think about the other conflicting side of the penny, our entire food system should be changed. Make an apple cost less than a soda, government!

Michelle, I love your point "Why should apples cost more than apple pie?" That seems to be the root of our nation's problem, not that (somewhat...) responsible adults (like me...) pick up the occassional (Oreo cookie...) treat! Making healthy, whole foods cost less could solve a host of issues.