Taxing the Children of the Corn?

A report released earlier in the week suggests taxing unhealthy foods to help combat obesity.

A report released earlier in the week suggests taxing unhealthy foods to help combat obesity.

Our time with Kerri’s family at Donner Lake is quickly coming to an end, and as we continue working on the last few chapters of the book, I have found my urges to eat food-like products such as Oreos and Wheat Thins stronger than ever. This week has been a battle. I took a vow two weeks ago to not eat prepackaged cookies anymore, but a week ago, I caved. I returned home from my fellowship at Cal Poly and found a small Ziploc bag containing some Nutter Butters in the cupboard. I inhaled them. My mind shut down, and I could not help myself.

So this week, we have been in an environment flush with processed foods that we would never bring into our home, and the challenge continued. During the dollar diet we could not afford foods like Triscuits or Lay’s Potato Chips. During our last experiment they were not part of the menu, so we didn’t eat them. Our most recent eating endeavor has sidelined these same products as well, but I am struggling now more than ever.

In order to help me understand what is happening in my brain when I see things like packaged cookies, I picked up a copy of Dr. David Kessler’s book “The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite.” Dr. Kessler, who in addition to having been the dean of the Yale medical school, was also the commissioner of the FDA under George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. His writing about why we overeat, the role of food companies, and how we can take control of our urges was both insightful and engaging. However, in addition to personal responsibility, there are several other things that need to be done to help our country drop the extra weight.

A recent blog entry on the Los Angeles Times Web site concerning a report released last week by the Urban Institute titled “Reducing Obesity: Policy Strategies from the Tobacco Wars” created a firestorm of comments from folks saying things like “There isn’t one tax out there that I would support at this point. We Americans are being taxed to death and we’ve had it,” and from another reader, “My govenrment [sic] is too large. It dictates too much. It no longer allows freedom.”

The majority of the comments were of this ilk, and there were 720 of them in the last 24 hours. Now, I do not want any new taxes either, but for those who oppose it, either on grounds of a “no new taxes!” chant, or “no more government!” please give your elected officials some new ideas that will help us figure out how our country is going to have a healthy population and workforce (over 20 serious diseases are related to obesity, including colon cancer), how we are going to stem exponential health care costs (that we are already paying for through current taxes), and how are we going to change the food system so that it will both satisfy and become sustainable?

This report, if you read it, is quite well done. However, I suggest that before we start taxing certain products, we should eliminate subsidies for both corn and soy farmers, thus letting products made from these ingredients (which is basically every processed food) take on their true cost. Costs of these products would inevitably rise, reducing consumption, and the money currently used for subsidies could be redirected to any number of avenues to help us combat obesity: health care, education about eating, etc.

Unless you have a better idea about how to change things, keep thinking, and keep quiet.

– Christopher

PS. If you are curious about our feelings concerning the recent report released about organic food, we align ourselves with Marion Nestle’s most recent post.



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9 responses to “Taxing the Children of the Corn?

  1. Pingback: Obesity » How do conservatives and liberals views differ on childhood obesity?

  2. I’m not sure that we need more taxes but people sure need to learn to control their diets. Maybe instead of new taxes, TV stations could start subliminally broadcasting subtle reprogramming during “our” favorite reality TV shows.

  3. Robbie

    The problem with removing subsidies on things like corn & soy is that, yes, the cost goes up for those using these foods as the basis for unhealthy processed foods, and discourages consumption, but the cost also goes up for those people using these products in their most basic (and healthiest) forms as staples of their diets. Those consuming corn & soy as diet staples tend to be more indigent populations. I am for a tax on “junk foods” for this reason.


    You guys are right on! End the subsidized corn and soy.

  5. Some very interesting points raised here, which has got me thinking!

  6. nonegiven

    I would love to see tax subsidies end for corn and soy. Subsidies mask the true high cost of these unsustainable and unhealthy commodity crops. The food might seem cheap at the cash register, but between the additional taxes we pay, the higher health care costs (due to ill health created in large part to the nutritionally devoid calories created with these crops), and the bleeding of local economies to fill the coffers of ADM, Cargill, and Monsanto, these are very expensive crops indeed.

    Yes, it will be a big adjustment to everyone, and the poor will be hit harder than anyone probably (but they are already hit pretty hard with the end effects of eating a diet predominately created from corn and soy).

    It’s in everyone’s best interest to reduce our national dependence on foreign oil (which fuels industrial commodity crops), get back to sourcing more of our food locally and seasonally (which is more safe and more nutritious), and to stop stuffing ourselves with empty corn & soy-derived calories at the expense of more wholesome nutrient-dense foods.

  7. I’m American, but my family and I flip back and forth between Europe and the U.S. for work purposes. EU food regulations are a god send. So are their advertising regulations. Food should be food, not some chemical concoction. Along the same vein, it shouldn’t be possible to advertize something as food when it clearly isn’t. We eat infinitely better in Europe, and we don’t have to hunt it out in a specialty store.

    I agree that ending subsidies might raise basic food prices at a time when prices are already unstable. Maybe the government should go the other way and subsidize healthy crops. Or maybe we should just carbon tax food, i.e. the more carbon produced during production, the higher the tax.

  8. You can tell that people who write about ending obesity have little experience with it and have an extremely shallow understanding of the problem. Taxing junk food won’t solve the problem. The problem is created by diets heavy in refined and cheap carbohydrates as well as fatty foods that make people overweight in childhood or young adulthood, screw up their insulin levels, leptin response, and blood sugar levels. Once these problems are in place, it’s a hop, skip, and a jump to a lifetime of battling weight problems.

    What is more, recent studies which have been discussed in both the New York Times and Psychology Today are revealing that leptin reactions in the brain (leptin is what tells you that you’re full and can stop eating) may be determined in the womb. Mothers who smoke or overeat during pregnancy may be affecting the future weight of their children and there’s absolutely nothing that can be done about this once the biology is laid down in the womb.

    The bottom line is that overweight people’s bodies are substantially different than the bodies of those of average weight. Their responses to all food are different and you can’t make them stop eating by making the food they eat more expensive. You can only make them poorer for having a problem which they experience but you do not.

    Rather than think up new band-aids to lay over the problem, deep consideration and complex and long-range plans need to be made. Finding punitive ways in which to make life harder for people who are obese and already suffering a variety of problems from discrimination to health problems to out and out harassment is not going to help. If anything, it’ll likely drive people further from seeking help and addressing their problems.

  9. rose

    a very awesome pic…………………..

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