Punitive Taxes on Food Won't Change People's Eating Habits

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This letter was published on May 21, 2009 by the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

John F. Banzhaf III errs in assuming obesity and smoking can be treated in the same way ("Health cost pledges ineffective because they ignore major causes of costs," cleveland.com/opinion, May 15). No one has to smoke cigarettes, but everyone must eat and drink. While raising taxes on cigarettes decreases their use, similarly raising the price of a few specific foods or beverages deemed 'unhealthy' doesn't mean people will automatically choose a healthier diet.

Nor does displaying calorie counts at a restaurant necessarily mean that the restaurant's patrons will choose lower-calorie selections.

Obesity is a real health risk, but we should be promoting healthier lifestyles (including physical education classes in schools) and educating people about how to make healthier nutritional choices (including the reduced-calorie foods modern technology has produced). The punitive methods Banzhaf suggests might remove a few vilified items from people's plates, but would not improve their ongoing food selection behaviors.