Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The War On Obesity

First Lady Michelle Obama's efforts to reduce obesity in America have come under fire by many. While a good initiative for the purposes of national security and health, the problem is that the efforts have become connected to left-wing ideas such as taxing foods with high fat or sugar content or restricting access to certain foods. Further, Ms. Obama's proclamation that the American people don't have a right to eat desert didn't help her cause as it presented a position that the government wanted to take control of what you could and could not eat.

The best way to fight "the war on obesity" is not through greater government intervention in the average American's life or new taxes. Rather, the government should incentivize healthy eating through tax breaks. There are two ways to do this:

Method #1: Allow Americans to deduct the cost of all food they purchase within certain dietary guidelines from their taxes each year. No cap on the deduction or income level should phase the deduction out. In practice, this means if a family spends $9,000 a year on food, with $500 spent on "unhealthy" food that don't meet the guidelines, they would be able to deduct $8,500 from their taxes. It would provide an incentive to eat healthy.

Method #2: Similar to a healthcare flexible spending account (FSA), a food savings account should be available for Americans to set aside pre-tax income for food purchases. As with the tax deduction idea, only food items meeting certain dietary guidelines would be eligible for the account, providing an incentive to purchase healthy food.

If the government incentives eating healthy with tax breaks, the result will be that food suppliers will make changes to create healthier food options as customers will demand items that are eligible for the tax deduction or to be purchased out of their food savings account. The government should additionally allow a deduction or a tax credit for the cost of gym membership or exercise equipment made in the United States. This will spur an uptick in purchasing, which will help businesses that make or sell exercise equipment. The result will be that the government, without invasive intervention into the lives of Americans or expensive programs like Obamacare, can encourage healthier eating and reduce obesity while also helping the economy.

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