Cris LaBossiere

Cris LaBossiere
Strength training and mountain biking. My two favorites

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Junk food - healthy food cost/ tax comparison

A quick follow up on my piece on the Ontario Medical Association trumpeting their bold and supposedly new recommendations on curbing obesity by reducing tax on healthy food and increasing tax on unhealthy food.

I went to a grocery store, bought some junk food and some healthy food, and compared the receipts..

WTF?  Something must be wrong with the receipt printer..  The damn thing shows NO TAX on the healthy food.  This can't be.  The Ontario Medical Association is having a hay-day in the media talking about their egalitarian concept to save Canada's overweight population by reducing tax on healthy food.

I didn't pay any tax on this healthy food.  How does a tax get less than zero?  I did pay tax on the junk food though, and the junk food was a buck more when compared to a similar number of servings of healthy food.  yes you read that right.. the junk food cost more than the healthy food.

Do the doctors at OMA ever go shopping for food?

Did they actually check what foods are currently taxed and which are not before winding up their boisterous media blitz?

No?  Whoops, minor oversight there.

As usual I do the heavy lifting and uncover the uncomfortable truth that nobody else does.

Actually I did a simple Google search; food tax Canada, and, looked at my grocery receipt.

This is not difficult to figure out, but, as usual, political hyperbole and media sensationalism distract people from the reality right in front of our faces.  More entertaining to pay attention to the dancing bear than look at actual facts.

This link will show you all the foods that are and are not taxed in Ontario. All the provinces have near identical lists for provincial taxes, as does the country as a whole for GST and HST.

I really want Canadians to eat less and change their social norms so that healthy eating is embraced instead of scoffed at.  I wouldn't mind seeing some of our tax dollars being put to good use with useful initiatives to help reduce and prevent the ever growing number of Canadians that are overeating their way to obesity and the ensuing health problems that hurt them.

I'm not going to hold my breath..

Back to reality..

Some research suggests that 10% tax on junk food can reduce purchases of junk food.

Of course, I have a serious problem with this research as most healthy food has long been cheaper, or at least competitively priced with junk food, yet most of our population choose junk food over healthy food much of the time.

Take a look at the receipts I've posted here.  The 1 L of pop was $1.34 and the 1 L of skim milk 1.49.  That's an insignificant difference.  The pop was on sale so I payed $1.00 for it plus 12 cents tax. Still an insignificant difference.

What would the price look like with another 15% tax (30% total tax).. a doubling of the current tax?

Instead of paying $4.75 for a bag of chips and a pop I would have had to pay $5.49, 74 cents more.

I don't eat junk food (I gave away my junk food to an all too eager taker) so I don't care how much it costs.  But for those who love their chips and pop I think most will find a way to pay an extra 10% or 15% over what they're paying now.

People overeat because they enjoy it, not because healthy choices are more expensive. "I'm going back for seconds on triple cheese pizza because broccoli is expensive."  Nope, doesn't happen. You go back for seconds because it tastes so damn good you want more.  That's the way that works.  Good research shows that overeating fatty, sugary, salty food alters appetite regulation causing increased hunger and decreased satiety.  The more you eat, the more your appetite regulation adapts to eating more.

And because of how our brain organizes memories of rewarding experiences, when we're hungry again we're likely to remember that we like pizza, so that is what we seek.  These foods stimulate an above  normal excitation of reward centres in the brain.  That's why we perceive them as tasting extra good compared to a great tasting apple.  Apple tastes great, but doesn't put reward perception into overdrive.

This is one of the strongest drivers of seeking out these foods.  People are not strongly compelled to buy junk food because it's cheaper.  People seek it out because of altered appetite and reward seeking regulation, a side effect of consuming these foods.  Not to mention the fact that socially, junk food is more respected than healthy food.

This isn't about changes taxes, it's about changing behavior, and moving away from perceiving junk food as better than healthy food.

The whole add new tax to junk food thing is BS, top to bottom anyway, since it's already taxed.

So as far as the grocery store is concerned, which is where most Canadians will be spending most of their food budget, healthy food already has no tax and is cheaper than junk food which is taxed.

What about restaurants and delicatessens?  Selfishly I would like to pay no tax on deli salads, where I and everyone else currently pays GST and PST on every menu item.

Because there is tax on healthy restaurant foods there exists the potential to mess with taxes here, but I'm still not completely sold on the idea that a fat tax or healthy = no-tax is going to be a reasonable primary strategy in the reversal of obesity in Canada.

The Ontario Medical Association seems to be aloof in placing at the top of their list of anti fat commandments a fat tax and reduced tax on healthy food for the obvious reasons I've already stated.

You know, why don't we just ignore the commandments from on high and start eating less.  We'll feel much better dropping a few pounds.

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