Attempting to tax people to better health is like a dog chasing its own tail. Governments that have tried to legislate behavior change through taxes have been unsuccessful time and again. Columnist Katrina Trinko looks at the latest failed experiment – a tax on beverages in Mexico – in piece for The Daily Signal.
One study found that the 1-peso per liter tax in Mexico has resulted in a reduction of six calories per day in an average daily diet of 3,024 calories. That reduction is so small it’s not even measurable on a bathroom scale. “Six calories a day is not the change that is going to make people change from obese to healthy,” says Trinko.
While the tax in Mexico hasn’t made a drop in the bucket toward fighting obesity as proponents promised it would, it has proven to be highly regressive, crippled small businesses and contributed to the loss of jobs.
Trinko says the tax, “seems designed to hit low-income people the most,” and the facts certainly bear this out. Nearly two-thirds of the tax has been paid by lower income families. The tax was also a factor in the closure of more than 30,000 mom and pop stores across the country and the loss of more than 10,800 well-paying jobs in the beverage industry.
Trinko goes on to identify one of the many reasons taxes are bad policy – “let’s not forget how nutrition science has swung over the years on foods like eggs—or how many times the Department of Agriculture’s nutrition guidelines have shifted in past decades.” Trinko says it doesn’t make much sense to base policy on science that is not settled and advice that’s always changing.
Rather than wasting time on unproductive policies, government should focus on meaningful solutions to combat obesity and other health challenges. This requires educating people about living a balanced lifestyle that focuses on the entire diet. Only then will we begin to see change for the better.