Hungary Introduces Misguided Fat Tax

At the beginning of the month, a new law went into effect in Hungary which adds a 10 Forint tax (about 5 cents) to junk food, “products with high sugar, salt, and/or caffeine”. The stated reason for this tax is their appalling 18.8% obesity rate (which is still lower than the lowest American state), so the extra millions this tax will generate will go to the state health care system, because according to their Prime Minister, “those who live unhealthily have to contribute more”.


Hungarian dobos torte, from the Café Gerbeaud in Budapest


All of which would be well and good, if not for the fact that healthcare for fat people is cheaper. The biggest healthcare costs are associated with old age, when regardless of how healthy you are, you’re on all kinds of pills and in and out of the hospital more than the movie theater. And while fat people do cost more in healthcare up to old age, the fact is they die at a younger age than healthy people. The result is that over their lifetime, healthy people cost about 420k$ while obese people only cost 370k$. So what the Hungarian government is doing via this tax is exactly the opposite of what they want: they’re adding more costs to their healthcare system by creating an incentive to be fit.

Now, is it bad to be healthy and fit? Of course not. It’s just their reasoning that’s backwards. If they were actually being altruistic and said “we don’t want our population being fat because… ewww. And we’re willing to pay higher healthcare costs for it”, that would make perfect sense. But taxing fat people because they cost the healthcare system more is like putting an air travel tax on housewives instead of business men.

Hungarian Parliament Building on the Danube


To be fair to Hungary, it’s not the only country that taxes junk food — it’s just the newest, and their law is the most comprehensive. But Denmark, Finland, Switzerland, Austria and other countries tax things like soda and candy and ban trans fats.

And on a different note, this kind of story is a big part of why many Americans are against a national healthcare system: once the government is responsible for the costs of healthcare, it can also pass laws to lower those costs. At least half of Americans don’t like their government also doubling as their nanny and telling them they can’t eat Pringles because trans fats have (erroneously) been banned to keep their health costs down.

A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have. (Gerald Ford)

Not that the lack of a healthcare system is much of a deterrent — New York City, Philadelphia and other places in the US already ban trans fats. And the federal government has been wrongly banning things for a century; for example, absinthe was banned from 1912 to 2007 because it caused epilepsy or hallucinations or madness, depending on who you asked, when in reality it does none of those things, or anything particularly bad.

From Spiegel Online, via Reddit and Neatorama


  1. Smoking Bans Will Cause Healthcare Costs To Rise Even More | Apt46 - pingback on October 29, 2012 at 9:51 pm

Trackbacks and Pingbacks: