Pumpkin Spice

How About a Pumpkin Spice Tax to Fight Obesity?

It’s barely September. Labor Day isn’t here yet. But pumpkin spice is all around us already. It’s not just Starbucks, it’s more than sugary coffee drinks, it’s in everything and the marketing intent is clear. Consume it! Even though health policy folks are still pushing soda taxes to fight obesity, we’re here to tell you they’re falling behind the leading edge. Any day now, a public health genius will tell us the real solution for fighting obesity is surely a pumpkin spice tax.

After all, there is no daily recommended allowance for pumpkin spice. But a PSL will give you 50 grams of sugar, 14 grams of fat, and 390 calories. If you’re into the HFSS concern, it even delivers 230 mg of sodium. That’s more sodium than you get in a small order of fries at McDonald’s. Who knew?

Will Taxes Tame the Marketing Frenzy?

But seriously, we have our doubts that taxes will turn around the trends in obesity for a simple reason that the triumph of pumpkin spice illustrates. Food marketers can find many ways to lead people to enjoy consuming ever more delicious drinks and foods.

“I’ll drink this pumpkin spice latte before Labor Day, but only because demons are making me,” writes Chris Burns. He goes in for a small one and comes out with the biggest serving he can buy. It’s fun, it’s tasty, and what started as a drink for hipsters is now on every street corner, at every gas station. This is the power of consumer marketing. Taxes don’t touch it. Banning HFSS ads before 9:00 p.m. won’t stop it.

Nonetheless, we see a steady stream of proposals to “address obesity” simply by taxing bad foods and promoting access to good foods. Easy peasy.

Naive Strategies

Years of experimenting with taxes on food and beverages have yet to yield evidence of any effect on health outcomes. Taxes lead people to change some behaviors, but not necessarily to better health. Proposals to regulate food marketing are sadly lame and naive. Meanwhile, marketers are dreaming up the next big thing thing to be the object of our lust when the pumpkin spice frenzy completes its life cycle.

Nope. Taxes will not tame pumpkin spice or obesity. We need to get our heads around strategies that will actually work in the reality of the marketplace, try them out, and objectively evaluate their effects.

Until then, we’re spinning our wheels. Obesity rates will climb until every person who is susceptible suffers the full effects of of this disease.

Click here for more on how pumpkin spice has won and here for more on the need for a sharper focus on goals for regulating food marketing.

Pumpkin Spice, photograph by Theo Crazzolara, licensed under CC BY 2.0

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September 2, 2022

One Response to “How About a Pumpkin Spice Tax to Fight Obesity?”

  1. September 02, 2022 at 2:57 pm, Mary Hastings Hager said:

    Had a good chuckle today. Here’s a headline from today’s WW email.

    Pumpkin Spice Is Coming Back!
    A sure sign of fall: Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal Cups are returning to the WW Shop. We’re bringing back the member faves just in time for cooler temps, changing leaves, and busier schedules

    I guess it’s everywhere