The food police have considered adding a sin tax to your favorite yummy delights for years. One letter published in the British Medical Journal discussed the feasibility of taxing dietary fat. The idea certainly isn't new: some obesity experts have been proposing higher taxes to deter fat intake and cover associated medical costs for years.
What is new, however, is the attempt for statistical justification of the fat tax - published in a peer-reviewed medical journal. The approach taken by the University of Birmingham's Tom Marshall, was to look specifically at the relationship between diet and ischaemic heart disease in Britain and determine if the addition of a luxury tax on fat would cause an indirect decrease on heart disease incidence. Low-income groups, who tend to eat higher-fat diets, would disproportionately bear the greatest tax burden, admitted the author.
It is has been established that saturated fat is strongly correlated with blood cholesterol levels. Food choices are believed to influence more than half of the leading causes of death worldwide.
"...by extending value added tax to the main sources of dietary saturated fat, between 900 and 1000 premature deaths a year might be avoided." - Tom Marshall, BMJ
At the same time, dietary fats supply energy and essential fatty acids. They also also help the body to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins. Humans need fat; and diets higher in omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats (like the Mediterranean diets) actually have been found to decrease heart disease risks.
While the amount of total fat recommended for Americans continues to be debated, the detriments associated with high amounts of saturated fats are well-understood. Saturated fat sources, according to the USDA dietary guidelines, include high-fat dairy products (like cheese, whole milk, cream, butter, and full-fat ice cream), fatty fresh and processed meats, the skin and fat of poultry, lard, palm oil, and coconut oil.
Of course, the greatest debate regarding a fat tax is the philosophical issue of civil liberties. Does one have the right to eat fat? Can you legally regulate dietary intake? If some can live on high saturated-fat diets without increasing blood cholesterol, shouldn't they be exempt from the tax? Because we know that a lack of exercise increases risks for many chronic diseases, will we next have to implement a couch-potato tax?