Denmark's Fat Tax

Sunday, October 30, 2011
butterThis is what can happen with taxes. If taxing sugar brings in money while attempting to improve people's health, can a tax on saturated fat be far behind? This is the tax evolution that has happened in Denmark, with the stated goal of improving the health and longevity of Danes. The government has instated a tax of (if my conversions and calculations are correct) about $1.32 for every pound of saturated fat purchased. This applies to every food which is more than 2.3% saturated fat, including butter, milk, cheese, beef, bacon, and yogurt.

90% of the Denmark legislature voted for this tax. I can just imagine them, all sitting around similarly to the U.S.D.A. committee on Dietary Guidelines, never for a second seriously entertaining the idea that saturated fat could have been unfairly painted as a big villain.

Naturally, many aren't happy with the tax, and there are complaints that the tax is aimed not so much at improving health as in getting more revenues for the government.

Interestingly, many of the reports in the press point out that the health benefits of reducing saturated fats are dubious:

-BBC News: "However, some scientists think saturated fat may be the wrong target. They say salt, sugar and refined carbohydrates are more detrimental to health and should be tackled instead."

-CBS News, quoting Marion Nestle: "Nestle also questions the importance of saturated fat for lowering heart disease risk, which "remains to be proven."

-Time Magazine, quoting Arne Astrup: "You would think that people who ate a lot of cheese would have higher risks of cardiovascular disease, but research has shown that's not the case."

There are at least a couple of ironies inherent in Denmark's fat tax. One is that one of the almost-inevitable consequences is that butter will be replaced with seed oils such as corn and soy oils, which are high in omega-6 fats, and can contributed to chronic inflammation in the body. This inflammation seems to be an underlying factor in heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer's disease, and many more. The same thing can happen when people replace fats with carbs.

Another irony is that Denmark's neighbor Sweden has been increasing butter consumption recently, occasionally to the point of shortages. A few years ago, the government there did a careful review of the literature around diet and put out the word: low-carb high-fat diets can be positive, and saturated fats are not to be feared. Since then, the LCHF diet has become very popular there, and people are raving about the improvements in their health. There aren't many fat people in Denmark now; I only hope this move doesn't actually cause the country to end up with more of them.

Living in the U.S., I hope that our leaders don't get any ideas from Denmark.

Photo: Stockbyte/Getty Images

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