Selvangivelse - Tax Returns

Obesity Tax

The obesity tax is a fact of life. A new publication in the journal Demography paints a stark picture of a tax on earnings and productivity paid by young men with excess weight and obesity. By studying pairs of siblings over time, they find a 16% wage penalty — a tax on earnings, so to speak — paid later in life by young men with obesity as teens.

Petter Lundborg and colleagues documented this effect with data from 150,000 male siblings enlisted in the Swedish military. By merging military service records with tax records they were able to compare earnings over almost 20 years for siblings with healthy weight to those with excess weight or obesity. They were also able to find a similar result in data from the U.S. and the United Kingdom. An added insight from their work is that this loss of earning power results in large part from lower skills acquired by teens with excess weight and obesity, despite having comparable potential and economic backgrounds compared to their lower-weight siblings.

This 16% tax on the earning potential of young people with obesity is staggering. By comparison, proposed soda taxes in Berkeley and San Francisco are trivial distractions. While the soft drink industry is spending millions to defeat upcoming ballot measures for a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, people with obesity are already paying a much larger tax.

However those ballot measures are decided, we need a more ambitious agenda for understanding what it will take to reverse the excess of obesity. We need a research agenda that will deliver prevention and treatment strategies that we know will work. We need to put evidence-based strategies to work. And weight-based discrimination must be stopped.

A 40-cent tax on a can of soda might make a difference and it might not. The evidence is mixed at best. But the tax that obesity places on health and economic potential is a much greater concern.

Click here to read the study in Demography and here to read more about it in the Economist. Click here to read about the soda-tax fight in Berkeley and here to read about the battle in San Francisco.

Selvangivelse — Tax Returns; photograph © Asbjørn Floden / flickr

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