World's First Fat Tax in Denmark as Food Sin Taxes Become Reality in Europe

Danish levy world's first fat tax photo

Photo: puuikibeach/CC BY 2.0

The statistics prove that people can't control themselves. Delicious, fatty, comfort foods are driving obesity, disease, and medical costs to unacceptable levels. Should the government step in? The once theoretical debate on food sin taxes has entered reality in Europe, where Denmark just implemented the world's first tax on saturated fats. One thing is clear: we cannot help ourselves -- except to a second serving. Our resistance has been inundated by clever marketing and overwhelmed by food research that targets the perfect balance of fat, salt, and sugar to encourage yearning and overconsumption.

But will a fat tax help? As hoarders emptied Danish shop shelves before the tax hit, shopkeepers speculated that the extra cost would not stop anyone from buying a bit of cake when they want it. The new tax will add 16 kroner (about €2.15 or $3) per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of saturated fat in excess of 2.3 percent. No food is exempt. Milk and butter will be taxed, as well as cakes and cookies.

The industry associations cried foul, noting that the way the tax has been imposed could make imports cheaper than domestic products, due to the cost advantage related to fats used in the preparation but not contained in the final goods. Industry advocates also point out that the tax, levied on the grams of saturated fat contained in the product, is a nightmare to calculate and apply to consumer products.

Denmark's obesity rate, and death rate from circulatory and heart diseases, are below the European average. Nevertheless, the Danish government wants to sink consumption of saturated fats by ten percent.

Denmark's saturated fat ban follows their success as the first nation in the world to ban trans-fats. It also comes a month after Hungary instituted a tax on junk food, which raises the cost of sugary beverages as much as 1 Euro ($1.40) per liter (quart), and hits fatty or sugary foods as well.

Have the Europeans found the secret to helping people help themselves? Or is this a case of government going a step too far? At least now there will be data from case studies to help solve that riddle.

More on Fat:
What Makes You Fat?
No, This Is Why You're Fat!
Another View of Why You're Fat
More on Denmark:
It's Time to Denmark-ify Our Cities: A Copenhagen Case Study
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How Just 3% of Denmark's Trash Ends Up in a Landfill (Video)

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