Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Fat Tax- Japanese Style

Japan has instituted a "fat tax". Their government is imposing heavy fines (in the millions) for private corporations and local governments that have overweight employees on their payrolls. How do they determine if someone is overweight? The measurement of the waistline must be no more than 33.5 inches for men and 35.4 inches for women. The goal of the new law is to decrease their overweight population by 10% over 4 years and 25% over 7 years.

I think this is quite an ambitious goal, especially for the country that already exhibits excellent cardiovascular health and longevity. However, I will be very interested in the results of this initiative. Will the Japanese government have its goals met?

I think it may have a positive effect. There is nothing that drives people more than adverse consequences, and because of the steep fines set as punishment, I would expect Japanese citizens to increase their vigilance towards calorie reduction and increase their calorie expenditure via exercise.

Would this work in the United States, where obesity is a much bigger problem than in Japan? I'm not sure, but if monetary fines and possibly the threat of losing employment are enforced, then it may. Certainly, the Japanese will likely have an easier time at accomplishing their goal because of their nationalized health care system, the general hardworking/no nonsense nature of their citizens, and their baseline diet, which is highly dependent on seafood.

If it does work in Japan, then I think lawmakers should consider some type of similar system here. Obesity is simply exploding in the U.S. over the past 20 years. It is crushing our health care system because of the multitude of medical problems, and thus medical expenses, associated with obesity. Here's just a short list of problems that are obesity-related: diabetes, hypertension, obstructive sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, polycystic ovarian disease, increased triglycerides, fatty liver, breast cancer (possibly), gallstones, gout, pancreatitis. The problem with most of these conditions is that many of them lead to coronary artery disease, stroke, kidney disease, and congestive heart failure.

Something must be done, and public awareness has not been a sufficient impetus thus far. Perhaps we should institute a radial "fat tax" plan akin to our Japanese comrades. Although, I better watch out, because my waistline would certainly qualify me for a fine under Japanese rules!!

19 comments:

gut buster said...

How is the women's waistline limit 2 inches bigger than the men's?

Seems like that lets the women be more overweight since they generally have smaller waistlines.

Cocameister said...

I agree, it is odd that they allowed the women to be "wider" than the men. If they are truly going to implement an "obesity tax" fairly, it should be based on BMI (body mass index) to account for height as well.

If you watched the video, you will also notice that they were measuring over the poor guy's pants and belt. I think he got cheated by at least an inch. The measurement has to be flush against the skin.

gut buster said...

Tax the pants!

dan said...

Doesn't that just mean that corporations will fire fat people? That sucks. Now I'll never get a job in Japan...

kath said...

Using the BMI alone would not be the solution because very muscular people may be considered "overweight" or "obese" by BMI.

I have a proposal for dealing with obesity here and I've been pushing it for a while to anyone who will listen: along the lines of a fat tax based on the nutritional content of food. For example, eating at McDonald's would not long be a cheap, easy value meal for $5 but more like $15 or something. The extra money charged would go to subsidize farmers (and maybe also go into the health care system). And you could get fruits and veggies, beans, veggie burgers, etc for next to nothing. This plan isn't perfect and doesn't address excess consumption but would at least make it more costly to eat poorly. It would also suck b/c that means that ice cream would cost more. What do you think?

Don Martin said...

This is perhaps one of the scariest bits of news I have read in sometime. These are frightening times indeed. Once again makes me happy to live in America.

Don Martin said...

If the government can punish us what we eat what can't it punish us for?

gut buster said...

I agree that I don't want the gov't to punish people for what they eat. However, I don't want to have to pay for others overweight health related issues. I would rather punish people for a choice they make than punish people for something they have no part in.

I think the excessive cigarette tax is a great thing and is actually working.

Will said...

this one has no easy answers either but I think some stuff - like banning trans fats - are semi-effective and universally beneficial.

With this issue, at least we have individual interests in line w/ the public interest. It's no more fun being obese than it is paying for medicare's reimbursement of CPAP machines. And here I think we could go a long way w/ some better education/information. Basically, people are bombarded w/ mcdonald's ads, rarely see the flipside and perhaps don't understand the connection btw the food choices and weight. Anti-smoking ads were/are a relatively cheap and effective way to spread the word and I think the same thing could be done with diet.

kath said...

Of course education is key but there is also the practical matter of cheap food being quick, easy and unhealthy. I'm afraid the quick and cheap aspect will often trump informed dietary decisions.

Don said...

Oh please. I come from a large family of poor, uneducated fat asses, and they all know why they are so portly. They just choose not to care. People should have the right to be idiots enjoying comfort food without the government telling them not to.

We just need to stop paying for their medical care at the other end.

kath said...

Oh, that sounds like a perfect solution!

Don said...

Why is it not a good solution? If people knew that there were consequences to their actions, perhaps they would jog a little more and eat a little less.

But wait.... we DO pay for their health care? I thought we had awful unsocialized health care where thousands of poor fat people die each year because they can't afford health care???

At least that seems to be what Hillary and Obama keep saying.... And they wouldn't lie.

Honestly, I think the best answer is that insurance companies should charge more for people who are obese.

If the government lets them....

R. Waterhouse said...

I've always thought that we (Americans) never really wanted a government dictating how we live our personal lives. How would you feel about a sex tax based on how many different partners a given person chooses to have? The promiscuous a poerson is, the more likely they are to spread diseases that the healthcare system must deal with. Would a tax on promiscuous or extra-marital sex be a good thing because it saves the health care system money? I have a hard time believing that anyone would agree with this.

At a basic level, a person's choices in their bedroom and their kitchen are not fundamentally different such that one warrants a tax and the other doesn't. If we have a right to personal choice and the government wants to provide healthcare, then the tax payers have to deal with the consequences of that policy choice. It seems much simpler (and more free) to just cut the entitlements than to control personal choice so as to make social programs less costly.

Cocameister said...

I do think that insurance companies should charge higher premiums for people with self-induced coniditions, particularly obesity, alcohol and tobacco issues.

In a government with socialized medicine (Japan), I think a little scare tactic/incentive to prevent long-term complications and COST is justified. I agree with Will that some things, like banning trans-fats, increasing cigarette taxes helps to improve overall health and thus will reduce overall health costs. Even for those with private insurance, if live to 65, will be riding on Uncle Sam (our money via Medicare).

R. Waterhouse said...

But the point is not about reducing the costs attendant to government subsidized health care. The point is that a government providing such a subsidy will naturally begin to impinge on liberty in order to reduce those costs. How much freedom are we willing to trade for social programs? As George Carlin once noted (and I'm heavily paraphrasing here), American fascism will not be heralded by jack-booted thugs marching down the street and throwing people into prison. Instead, American's will lose their liberty under the auspices of a big friendly welfare state plastered with smiley faces.

Now, this is a little extreme, and I'm not trying to flame a blog I've just started reading. The fact remains, though, that everyone here seems a little too eager to allow a direct government tax on a very personal attribute.

kath said...

There are fundamental human rights that we, as a leading world power, must provide our people. And we do not charge individuals' desires for police protection or highways.

And obesity, tobacco use, drug addiction are not simple choices consciously made by people. The responsible thing to do is to provide a basic level of healthcare to our people.

The proposed plan for insurance companies to charge more for obese patients is difficult to accept because it is not clear where the line would be drawn and who would make these judgegments on additional charges.

Don said...

Who says these are fundamental rights? Why don't we let people pay what they want for more police protection or better highways? Why is it okay for the government (to which a person may be bound) to draw the line as to how fat you have to be before they tax you, but we can't let insurance companies (to which a person is not bound) do it?

The point is that if decide to pay for everyone's health care, then we are stuck with that. There is cost to that. We can't then manipulate them through taxes to become the perfect little Orwellian citizen who behaves like every urban liberal's dream.

Well, I guess we can try. I just don't think we should.

I don't want to live longer just so the government can tell me what to do every breathing hour of that life. What gives anyone the right to make me pay taxes for what I eat (or as Waterhouse says) how I have sex. If gay sex results in more health issues and costs, should we tax it? Pregnancy certainly raises health care costs, should we tax that?

And if we tax people for bad behavior, are we truly offering free healthcare? Why not just make them buy their own insurance in the first place and cut out the federal middle man?

Don said...

I also don't understand Coca's point that -- by taxing corporations -- we are reducing cost. Now, I know Japanese corporations are nearly so evil or vile as American corporation (because they are - by definition - not American). Hollywood and CNN have corrected my attempts at free thought enough to get that.

But, if you tax the corporations..... they will pass on the cost to consumers. Consumers will pay that cost. Now, those costs may be spread to non-Japanese consumers, but of all the world joins in this social engineering nightmare, all consumers all over the world will pay the cost.

The only difference between having the tax and not having the tax is that poor people who ordinarily don't pay taxes, will pay the incremental increases in the cost of consumer goods. Perhaps the rich people who actually pay taxes will see their tax rates go down as more fat money goes to government coffers.....

Hehe... Yeah, I kinda giggled at that idea too.

Oh, and the health benefits? Assuming you can convince people that you know better how they should eat, you would think they would get leaner. But, if you are taxing the corporation, what incentive does Fatty McGee (i.e. me) have to put down the potato chips?

Unless you let the corporation fire them for being fat. And I don't think you want that....

So, how about we let people be stupid and enjoy their fun (if shortened) lives? If they want to pay more in insurance, so I don't have to support their fat existence, let them.

Just like we don't tax unprotected sex.......

.....yet.