Fat Tax and Diet Failure – The Perfect Storm

What a Load of CrapAs I was scrolling through my Facebook feed two articles came across in a row. The first was about how a University health sciences lecturer in Barbados made a public address at the Ministry of Health’s town hall meeting where the topic was the future of health care financing, and suggested that fat people should be subjected to a special tax.

Taxing people based on their perceived “healthcare costs” is a terrible idea.  It’s a terrible idea even if the numbers are on your side (which, when it comes to fat people, they are not.) It’s also the slipperiest of slopes (or it would be if this were about anything other than sizeism.) Are we going to tax sedentary thin people?  How about people who don’t get the recommended servings of vegetables. How about people who participate in sports who will have injuries now, and possibly later in life that are quite expensive? How about people who don’t look both ways before they cross the street? And if that seems ridiculous then maybe it’s time to face the fact that this has nothing to do with health and is actually about a fatphobic society trying to punish fat people?

There’s always some proud fatphobe trying to add to the institutionalized oppression that fat people face, like trying to tax us for existing.  What made this interesting was the next article on my Facebook feed. It was about a study that showed, like every long-term weight loss study shows, that dieting tends to lead to weight gain – that the odds of becoming fat almost double if you diet once and nearly triple if you diet twice.

Studies that look at dieters long-term show that the vast majority of people gain their weight back and a majority gain back more than they lost.  So, even for those who think that being fat is bad, recommending attempts at weight loss is the absolute worst advice they could give.

Something that would be funny if it weren’t headdesk level ridiculous is the study’s conclusion:

Dieting to lose weight can contribute to the risk of future obesity and weight gain. Losing weight requires a commitment to change one’s lifestyle and a sustained effort to maintain a healthy diet and engage in physical activity.

The first sentence is based on their actual research. Their second sentence is absolutely made up – 100% rectal pull.  They have literally NOTHING to back it up, there is no research anywhere of any method of “maintaining a healthy diet and engaging in physical activity” in which people lost weight long term.  The research that does exist comes to the same conclusion that they came to in their research – intentional weight loss simply doesn’t work.

This is the state of diet research, basically these researchers’ concluded:  Dieting leads to weight gain.  In order to lose weight you have to engage in a game of semantics in which you call dieting something else.”  This is sadly typical of the embarrassing state of research when it comes to weight loss and health, as Lindo Bacon and Lucy Aphramor have explained.

So, let’s take stock of the situation here: There is not a single study of any intentional weight loss method where more than a tiny fraction of people are able to lose weight long-term.  And even among the tiny fraction who maintain weight loss, most don’t lose enough weight to change classes – so those who started classes as “obese” were still “obese” after the weight loss, and those classed as “overweight” were still “overweight” after the weight loss. And remember that the majority of people actually gain weight long term.

So if the fat tax people get their way, they will tax people for their weight in pounds times 703 divided by their height in inches squared (aka – their BMI.)  We know from the research that any attempt that fat people make to try to be not fat (so that they don’t have to pay the fat tax) will likely end up in them being fatter (and perhaps subject to even more tax?)   Think it seems far-fetched? It’s already happening in corporate wellness programs in which people are penalized for being fat and have to pay thousands more for their insurance premiums until they lose weight, including having their companies enroll them in diet programs with proven track records of creating weight gain.

This is a vicious cycle of oppression and it has to stop.  This is why our public health conversation should focusing on providing access to information, and options for health, and removing barriers to health (like lack of access, oppression and marginalization, doctor bias etc.) Public health should be about making information and options available to the public, not about making fat people’s bodies the public’s business. And if we need the revenue that badly, maybe we can create a bigot tax so that making other people’s lives miserable becomes a little more expensive.

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13 thoughts on “Fat Tax and Diet Failure – The Perfect Storm

  1. I’ve had the discussion many times with friends where I state, categorically, that I do NOT support, and will vote against, ANY supposed “vice tax.”

    I don’t smoke. I don’t like being around cigarette smoke. It’s a habit that has so much research data against it, that I cannot fathom why anyone would take it up these days. My dad smoked when I was a kid, and I hated being in the car when he lit one up. Even then, every time they put another tobacco tax on the ballot, even with their supposed noble justification of paying the health care costs associated with tobacco use, I vote against it.

    When we give the Government permission to punish people for what they have decided is a vice, we have set the precedent that they can do so for anything they decide is a vice. Do you enjoy a beer or glass of wine once in a while? Vice! You’re subject to a tax! Are you jonesing for a thick, juicy steak? That red meat is bad for you, so we’re going to tax you! Feel like just vegging out in front of the TV today and binge watching last season’s episodes of your favorite sitcom? That inactivity is unhealthy, so we’re going to figure out how to tax your television viewing! Ride a motorcycle? Dangerous, so TAX! Play videogames? Inactive, TAX! Breath the air in San Bernardino, California? Deadly, TAX!

    The sword we give the government to use against others, they will use against us.

    To summarize that haunting bit of prose from WWII Germany, “I didn’t stand against it when it applied to everyone else, because it didn’t apply to me then, so when it finally did apply to me, there was no one left to stand against it with me.”

    1. Wow… I never thought of it that way. While I’ve always been against taking measures like special taxes for things like soft drinks (even though I rarely ever drink them) or special “junk food” taxes (even though I hate junk food and rarely eat any because of how it makes me feel), I’ve usually been “OK” with higher cigarette taxes. But I think you’ve just changed my mind. You’re right, once we start letting the “powers that be” start taxing whatever they deem unhealthy where does that lead and where does it end?

    2. “The sword we give the government to use against others, they will use against us.”

      Well said. I don’t think I’ve ever been fully comfortable with “sin taxes”, but I hadn’t really thought about it in those terms before. I probably should have, considering how often they’re dragged out- especially cigarette taxes- to support whatever “penalize people for being fat” scheme people what to promote.

  2. “Dieting to lose weight can contribute to the risk of future obesity and weight gain. Losing weight requires a commitment to change one’s lifestyle and a sustained effort to maintain a healthy diet and engage in physical activity.”


    It’s like they don’t HEAR themselves. Diets ARE “sustained efforts to maintain a healthy diet and engage in physical activity,” *and it has been documented out the ass for 50+ years they do not make fat people thin.* They just DON’T. Not even if you “do them right.” Not even if you “find the right one.” Not even if you “don’t go back to your old habits.” Diets don’t work, no matter what you call them.

    1. Exactly and very well said. Also, this: “he odds of obesity were 1.9, 2.9, and 3.2 times higher among those who were on a diet once, more than once, and *ALWAYS*, respectively.

      HELLO RESEARCHERS!!! You DID have people who were “ommit(ed) to change one’s lifestyle and a sustained effort to maintain a healthy diet and engage in physical activity.” WTF do you think that ALWAYS DIETING MEANS!!!!! Jesus f’ing Christ. They can’t even pretend that some of the dieters weren’t doing long term as a long term effort. This just makes me ragey.

  3. This makes me so angry and I feel so powerless about it. I wish there was some way to hold these scientists accountable for their bullshit. Folks, your conclusions don’t match your research and you should absolutely never have made it past the peer review process with this crap. I suppose it’s possible that there is something in the full research instead of the abstract that explains that sentence, but I doubt it. It’s pretty obvious that the researchers simply didn’t want to accept the obvious conclusion that dieting is a failed intervention. This. Just. Makes. Me. So. Mad. 😦

  4. Well, that’s one way to permanently raise the national tax level, I suppose. They can set the “base” tax level low, so they seem all nice and sweet, and then, year by year, they collect more and more, because of the “special tax,” that the fat people “deserve to pay,” because they’re so horrible. And it will just be more and more and more and more and more, and the science proves it, and they KNOW it, and I’m sure that’s why they’re doing this. They don’t actually believe it will get rid of fat. They just want more and more money.

    Also, if I were a gambler, I’d be willing to be big money that there are some diet industry lobbyists behind this. What a way to rake in the dough.

  5. This issue is truly sad. No wonder so many people have self-esteem issues! Our society is getting out of control, we shouldn’t tax someone because of their size. That’s discriminatory and plus just because someone is a little overweight doesn’t mean they’re unhealthy, plenty of thin people are unhealthy too. You’re a very good writer by the way, I’m brand new to blogging.

    1. Wondering what “a little overweight” means here? (Many of us prefer not to use the word “overweight” because we are not sure of “over whose weight” or “over the weight for what?” means.)

  6. This is part of why I’m becoming more and more resistant to giving my height and (especially) my weight to anybody, including healthcare providers. All it takes is punching them into a calculator and voila! Instant moral judgment! Instant morbidity prediction! Those outside the medical community don’t even have to pretend that they’re basing their conclusions on anything approaching sound science.

    It’s bad enough that my medical chart has “obesity” listed as a current health problem and my BMI is listed prominently on every check-out form I sign at my doctor’s office (well, when they have a current weight measurement — I had to give them one recently for an MRI), but I resist giving that info to insurance companies, and the No-Fly List is an example of just how badly the government can screw you with a little information, especially when they use it wrong.

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