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Weighty Matters: Hungary Imposes “Fat Tax”

September 6, 2011

First of all, I absolutely love it when my friends/readers send me articles to feature on the blog…it means the world to me that you’re reading and interested in this crazy mess!

And so, our article from today comes from dear Fedora, a loyal friend, reader, and commenter who I cherish deeply. We have a good friend who lives in Hungary who I went to visit not long ago, so this bit of news is thus even more intriguing to me. And let me tell you, the food in Hungary is absolutely delicious–the traditional dishes are laden with cream and/or fried in oil, heavy on carbohydrates and high in fat content. Mmmmmm….my mouth is watering just thinking about it!

With an 18.8% obesity rate, Hungary imposes a "Fat Tax"

With an 18.8% obesity rate, Hungary imposes a "Fat Tax"

We’ve already featured “Is it Fair to Fine Fat People for Not Dieting?” in Arizona and “Not New News But Still Unbelievable: (No) Big In Japan?” and now Hungary is apparently jumping aboard the “fat tax” ship:

The Hungarian government argues that this kind of diet [calorie and saturated fat laden foods] is also leading to obesity and increased health problems, and that those who partake in indulgences like sweets should also pay a premium to help offset those costs. Enter the “fat tax.”

Beginning Sept. 1, Hungarians will have to pay a 10 forint (€ 0.037) tax on foods with high fat, sugar and salt content, as well as increased tariffs on soda and alcohol. The expected annual proceeds of €70 million will go toward state health care costs, including those associated with addressing the country’s 18.8 percent obesity rate, which is more than 3 percent higher than the European Union average of 15.5 percent according to a 2010 report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In Germany, by comparison, 13.6 percent of adults are obese, with Romania at the bottom of the list with 7.9 percent.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said, “Those who live unhealthily have to contribute more.” In other words, the new law is based on the idea that those whose diets land them in the hospital should help foot the bill, particularly in a country with a health care deficit of €370 million.

Oy. The article goes on to discuss how other European countries are tackling rising obesity rates and low budgets with similar sin taxes on items such as sodas and saturated fats. But will this tax put the poor at a disadvantage? And is it an effective tool to combat obesity?

Hungarians already spend 17 percent of their income on food, and they pay an extra 25 percent tax on most of the food and drink products they consume — one of the highest rates within the EU. A major criticism of the new tax is that it will hit low-income groups the hardest, given their higher consumption, on average, of processed foods…

“Scientific research shows that taxation is not an effective instrument in addressing consumer behavior and will have no impact on obesity rates,” McCooey argued. “Consumer information and education, not tax, is the way to advance consumer understanding of healthy eating.”

Truth. So, what are some of the suggestions on how to instead combat the rising obesity epidemic?

“Consider using other pricing mechanisms or subsidies to make the healthy options” of fresh fruits and vegetables “more widely available and affordable.”–European Public Health Alliance

“Combined with health promotion measures designed to increase awareness of the health issues associated with a poor diet, the impact of fiscal measures applied to food policy can be significant.”

This is obviously not an issue with an easy solution, and the worldwide economic issues coupled with a steep rise in unhealthy lifestyles are creating chaos in all parts of the world. I’d be curious to see if there is any impact on the obesity epidemic with this “fat tax”…But for now, I’ll leave you with some mouth-watering pictures of Hungarian food (I feel like I’m gaining weight just looking at them…but totally worth it)!

Can't you just feel your waistline expanding?

Can't you just feel your waistline expanding?

Mmmm Fried Meat!

Mmmm Fried Meat!

(Images courtesy of Lonely Planet, The Hungarian Girl, and Reserve123–all excellent travel sites/resources!)

3 Comments leave one →
  1. jenmarie permalink
    September 6, 2011 11:02 pm

    I find myself torn as I read this. I often wish for a tax like this in the US…I have felt that something needs to be done so that a family size bag of Doritos isn’t the cheapest, most compelling food option in our grocery stores…so that McDonald’s isn’t more cost effective for a low-income family than something with real nutritional value. Then, as the post above points out, I remember that a tax on these items will only hurt those who are already struggling to make ends meet. I agree that we need to combine education with subsidies for healthy food (not corn and all its byproducts!)

    But, a part of me remains cynical. The fact is, you can go to McDonalds and get a fruit and yogurt parfait, a salad, and fruit smoothie for little more than you’d spend on a Big Mac, fries and a coke. The “healthy” options are still FAR from adequate, given the quality of ingredients we’re talking about, but they are much less likely to create 300+ pound people. But are people choosing these healthier options? And if the answer is a resounding “no” (as I suspect it is) why??

    We already have a pretty hefty tax on cigarettes and alcohol and that doesn’t stop people from ALL income levels from buying these products. My uncle, who currently live below the poverty line, still manages to keep up with his pack-a-day habit. That’s because he’s addicted, and as we all know, addiction trumps rationality. Is it possible that humans are becoming equally addicted to fattening, highly processed foods? And if that’s true, what does the price have to get to in order to break the habit. Many less people are smoking these days…but smoking isn’t necessary for our survival, while food is. We are always going to be eating, so we need to find a way to shift focus so that eating stops being an addiction and starts being nourishment again. I’m just not convinced that we’ve found the right approach yet…

  2. Fedora permalink
    September 13, 2011 1:10 am

    1.) Glad you liked the article!
    2.) Like *jenmarie*, I too thought of the cigarette tax but think its kinda working, at least here in NY. Packs are over $10, it definitely makes many people cut down at least.
    3.) I have vague memories of Bloomberg proposing a tax on things like soda, and that it was countered by companies like Coca-Cola running ads that we should vote against it because it would make groceries for the common man much more expensive.

  3. Yukiko Beehler permalink
    July 23, 2012 1:43 pm

    Diet calories should be kept as low as possible so that you can lose fat as soon as possible. I always keep my diet calories at low level by avoiding foods with high glycemic index. :`’::

    Thanks again“>

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