Taxing On Your Heart


On May 25, 2010, the Center for Science in the Public Interest released its annual XTREME EATING AWARDS.  At the top of the calorie chart was The Cheesecake Factory’s Pasta Carbonara at 2,500 calories and 85 grams of saturated fat.  They added, “That’s more saturated fat than a person should consume in four days.”

Processed foods like pizza, pasta, microwavable dinners, and greasy cheese burgers, chock full of calories, carbs, salt and preservatives of all kinds are shortening our lives and making the ends of our lives more painful and expensive.  This is killing our country.  The trend is unmistakable:

HERE is CDC data.

Why do we not reform when these facts are so well known?  There are a number of reasons I can think of.

  1. Addiction. We are hooked on the seductive taste of foods made so differently from what has been the human diet for hundreds of thousands of years.
  2. Culture. Our culture promotes eating as part of the good life, and this is reflected in humor, including Mike Pound’s cheeseburgers and Wally Kennedy’s big lunches that they write about.  Sorry if the truth hurts, guys, but this is a serious problem and when you joke about it, you undermine the serious message that medical scientists are sending.  Problem is, this is a long-term danger.  Another aspect of culture working against us is having both parents work, leaving less time for food preparation from healthy ingredients.  Did you know people eat less when given small plates instead of big ones?
  3. Marketing, Convenience, Availability. Television and other venues are more efficient than ever in promoting processed foods, including boasts about extra-large portions.  It is no accident that the people who rave over unhealthy food in TV ads are not fat; marketers are not stupid.  So many things now go from the freezer shelf to the microwave to the table with minimal effort.  Whereas at one time you would get pangs of appetite while working in the field, it is now a simple matter to satisfy any craving.  I suspect that an actual appetite is a rare experience these days.  Finally, healthy fresh fruits, vegetables and whole-grain products are more expensive than the processed foods because the processed kind can be mass-produced and has a longer shelf-life.
  4. Exercise. We humans are much less physically-active than ever before in history.  It is just human nature to conserve energy.  Ever circled the parking lot several times just to get a space 10 or 20 yards closer to the door?  I have.  I do it without even thinking.  I also remember life on the farm with my mother’s folks when it was men lugging bales of hay and rounding up cattle on foot, and the women taking all day on Mondays to do the wash by hand.  There is no comparison to now.
  5. 5.  Stress. Being a hunter-gatherer must have been really stressful when you were chased by a lion, but I doubt that happened every day.  Mostly I suspect, life was pretty boring.  But modern life has all kinds of stress – social, financial, business, crime, traffic, etc.  I guess this goes with Addiction above.  Eating is a pleasurable escape from stress.
  6. Affluence. Almost all Americans can afford to eat retail and very few of us farm or make meals from scratch anymore.  This means heavy reliance on those convenient processed foods, packaged large for extended pleasure.

If I lived in Libertarian-stan, I wouldn’t care as much that 2 out of 3 of my fellow Americans ate themselves into an early grave (although I have to say I am very concerned about my grandkids who have neither will power nor motivation to resist these temptations).  But, I live in ObamaCare-stan instead, which means that no matter how self-disciplined I am, I am forced to help pay for other people’s self-induced illnesses through my taxes.  Costs increased by being overweight or obese include blood-sugar monitors, bypass surgery, angioplasty, ICU time, electric carts and sleep-apnea machines.  But the biggest cost is more doctor visits and lots of very expensive medication, like statins, all of which has side effects (some deadly).

I won’t be around for the denouement, but, according to at least ONE REPORT our kids and their descendants will likely have shorter lives than their ancestors for the first time in American history.  It’s like helplessly watching a train wreck in slow motion.

Should the government protect us from getting too fat?  My first impulse was to advocate personal responsibility, but we have been doing that for years and it is a failure.  It is similar to the problem of tobacco – the addiction is simply too great and biology is against us.  We have lost the battle to educate the populace about something no one really wants to hear, and Mike and Wally need something to write about.

I propose that government do all that it can to fix this, including nutrition labels on menus and a SIN TAX that taxes food in proportion to its unhealthfulness.  After all, we tax cigarettes and alcohol.  Then we could use the proceeds to help rescue Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

As a rule, I favor less government and not more.  However, this is one area where I see no alternative solution.  Another is energy.  Instead of sending  our young people to fight and die, we could very simply end our energy dependence on OPEC in a few years by incrementally increasing the federal gasoline tax and using the revenue to repair and maintain our crumbling infrastructure.

This Memorial Day I am hearing a great deal of praise for the fallen from past wars who sacrificed for our common good, but is it just talk?  All it would take to solve these two seemingly intractable problems is the resolve by a majority of Americans, one nation indivisible,  to share the pain equally.  Are we up to it?

About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Democratic.
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8 Responses to Taxing On Your Heart

  1. Jennifer Lockett says:

    I realize that this is an old post but I really liked it and it merits comment. One thing that you do not mention is that this is the first time in the history of the world when calories are prevalent. We are biologically programmed to eat a lot of calories when we can to store up energy for times of scarcity (famine, drougt, or when you just can’t take down that gazelle). Now, calories are always available and they’re cheap. It’s a problem that civilizations have *never* dealt with in the past and it will require a myriad of solutions that include education, cultural awareness, mandates, etc.


  2. ansonburlingame says:


    Old post but ood discussion.

    TOO MANY calories is a bi deal in America today. Not ENOUh calories is a problem around many parts of the world. Now why is that I wonder.

    We are a “land of plenty” in America today and we eat too much to remain healthy. Human nature as you point out but also pure reed as well. How many $ in food stamps o for junk food as a simple example and how can overnment really control such a problem. How many obese “poor” people do you see in America today as opposed to say some countries in Africa? And how does oevernment fix that problem I wonder?

    In a way it would be like oin to a public housin project of terrible conditions and see how many expensive TV sets are there.

    Of course I am not opposed to anyone havin a TV set or eatin ice cream. But I hate to see scare overnment $ payin for such as well. Now please don’t call me a Neaderthal for such views. I believe it is a serious problem and we need to address such costs across the board, but do so humanely.



    • Jennifer Lockett says:

      Yes American, Europe, Australia, Japan, etc. You’re right, in many parts of the world starvation is a reality.
      It has been cited that obesity is a poverty issue. High calorie, low-nutrition food is much less expensive (and keeps a lot longer) than produce, whole grains, etc. Check out the ‘economics of being poor.’ Those living below the poverty line, for example, do not have the luxuries most of us do such as going to the grocery store – as they do not have transportation. Buying a gallon of milk at the corner store costs $1.50 more than the same milk at the grocery store and produce is generally not available or grossly overly priced (i.e. $1.50 for one banana). Eating healthy also requires things like a working kitchen, electric/gas, various pots and pans, as well as the knowledge of how to cook.
      Personally, I’m a big fan of certain initiatives like Walmart selling more nutritious food at a discount and a ‘sin tax’ on soda and candy (as well as eliminating junk food from coverage of food cards). I also like the First Lady’s initiative “Let’s Move!” and the government food lunch program only providing wholesome, nutritious food – I actually posted a bit on that topic here:


  3. ansonburlingame says:

    Not an AMEN from here for sure,

    I shop locally at Price Cutter. While still healthy I am ettin alon in ae (still have ” ” key problems) and thus asked them about delivery of roceries. Absolutely yes was their answer. Just call, ive them my list and the roceries will be at my doorstep. So what is the problem and the cost of such is very low, a lot lower than oin to the as station to buy bread or milk.

    And yes school kids eat like prisoiners, actually worse. Prisoniers have little choice in the line. They eat what they et. School kids have lots of choices and uess what the “fat ones” eat, rich or poor. That observation is based on 8 years in public schools as a substitute.

    Now what if ONLY meat and reen veatables were served in schools? Who would be the first to scream about that situation? No candy, no soda, no sweet deserts, just the basics, nutritional basics. What a way to us public money but no, we won’t do that for some reason.



    • Jim Wheeler says:

      No amen, Anson? I can’t figure out what you disagree with, unless it is the idea that healthy fresh foods cost more than unhealthy processed food. But I (and my wife, Mollie) have found that to be the case. Take bread for example. The plain, white processed bread is quite cheap, but whole wheat or multi-grain bread is many times more expensive. And fresh produce (even cucumbers) is very high. A doggone tomato is almost a dollar.

      No disagreement on choice at the school cafeteria though. Kids (and many parents) will pick pizza over salad any day. I would sure like to see the district eliminate starches and defend the decision – maybe we would be surprised. I sent a link to Jennifer’s post to Rick Kunkel, the R-VIII District food manager along with the suggestion that, if the new high school location allows it would be both educational and healthy for the students to have a vegetable garden. He said he would look into it. I have heard talk that a new site may be considered.



  4. Jennifer Lockett says:

    There are no grocery delivery services where I live. None – and we also have *very* limited public transportation (I live 12 miles from the closest bus stop). I’ve tried to find them for my grandmother in Los Angeles – she is 88 and cannot drive a car. None in her area either. Grocery delivery is a rare phenomenon. I used to volunteer in college in Miami for meals on wheels. Other than a couple of neighborhood grocers in Little Havana (who operated solely on a cash only basis), none of the large stores provided delivery service. I also wonder if your store would do it if instead of paying with cash or credit card, you payed with a food card (the new food stamps). Perhaps they would. You also stated that they charge a fee. Would that fee be covered by the food card or would that be out of pocket (I believe that delivery service is prohibited on the card)? How readily obvious is this service? is it advertised or would you have to research how to do this by visiting the store or looking on the internet? Again, if the information is not readily available and spelled out to people they don’t have the means of exploring them.
    The hinderance in providing healthier lunches in school is not parents or children, it’s the assertion by the school districts that the cost is prohibitive. My school has cut out soda under the guise of ‘being healthy,’ but they still service sugary chocolate milk (more sugar than your average soda) and meals that are devoid of vegetables or fruit and filled with salt, sugar, and fat.


  5. ansonburlingame says:

    That, Jim is why no amen from me, Jennifer’s response above.

    I lived in Pasadena for two years as a bachelor. There were several stores from which I could have groceries delivered, I just had to find them. And if I had a parent or some older loved one that needed such service I bet I could find the services. Of course the cost would have to be taken into account. But there are many “good” people running stores that if asked and shown a real need, then I bet they can be found. But one must look and ask, not just expect “government” to do it for them.

    As for the distance to the bus stops, we might want to change the subject to public transportation and how to provide such or acutally the “need” to provide it and at whose expense?

    Sort of where there is a will there is a way, rich or poor, in my view.

    And I will say no more about school food programs. I believe I already made my point. Serve ONLY nutrional foods in any publicly funded school, period. But of course EVERYONE will try to argue over the definition of nutritional, right?


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