As U.S. obesity rates climb, community members contemplate how the cost of taxing junk food might lead to more accessible and healthier alternatives.
On a visit to the Shop for Less at Broad Street and Susquehanna Avenue, I found one small produce shelf covered with rotting lettuce, two shriveling tomatoes and a few decaying apples among countless aisles of chips and other junk food items.
As the health care crisis in America escalates and startling obesity statistics become more and more prevalent, serious consideration is now being given to raising taxes on designated junk-food items.
The proposal seeks to tax food items low in nutritional value and high in saturated fats, sugars and calories. The proposition is gaining momentum in state legislature, and major national academics, such as the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, are endorsing the taxes.
This “sin tax” has met considerable opposition, though, along with questions of how it could impact the poor and whether it would actually spark any significant change in eating habits.
“I think it’s a shame that it’s become the norm to pacify kids with junk,” said Israel Morano, a parent and resident of North Philadelphia. “A 25-cent bag of chips can be tempting and deceiving. The problem is that a lot of better, organic foods in places like Whole Foods are costly.”
Junk food is often more available and affordable than fresh produce and meats. Concerned for those with tight budgets and limited access, some say increasing the tax will make it more difficult to put food on the table.
“People [from] the inner city are concerned about feeding their kids,” Morano said. “A tax could make feeding [their children] healthier foods more of a priority. Being raised on a certain diet is a bad habit to break, but I think a tax might make a difference, even here.”
If prices of junk food and nutritious foods were even, it seems the claim that junk is more affordable would no longer be valid. Raising prices could even make junk food less appealing and healthier options more affordable, creating potential for a curb in obesity rates of children and adults.
Raising taxes on junk food could even lead to subsidizing prices on produce. The U.S. Department of Agriculture tabulated a 6 to 7 percent increase in consumption of produce following a 10 percent price cut. This could be one of the wisest decisions for Americans’ health since the highly successful tax increase on cigarettes.
Southwest Philadelphia resident Diana Brown said she has to travel to the Whole Foods on South Street to gain access to fresh produce.
“I think [the junk food tax is] a great idea,” Brown said. “In the ghetto, the only place for people to go is places like Save-A-Lot, places with a lot of junk. Maybe there’d be no more excuse that junk is all people can afford to buy.”
A report by the Associated Press said 63 percent of those opposed to the tax would change their minds if the revenue was used to fund health care and combat health problems related to obesity. But while these brilliant initiatives have recently gained attention, Congress has yet to endorse these proposals. If the tax increase is carried out with the consideration of the financial well-being of the American people, we could work toward a sensible solution to preventing obesity, increasing life expectancy rates.
“There’s plenty of healthy food that’s cheaper than McDonald’s drive through,” junior psychology major Lisa Ryan said. “I think it’s a great idea to make people think twice about what they’re putting into their bodies.”
Brittany Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.