‘Fat tax’ opposition varies by location, education

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Percent United states

People living in the eastern parts of the United States are the most supportive of placing a tax on soft drinks and fast food as a way to deter obesity, but the idea is still opposed by the majority of the country’s consumers, finds a new survey.

Imposing an ‘obesity tax’ – or ‘fat tax’ – has been a controversial and much debated issue across the country, as individual cities and states have considered this as a means to discourage unhealthy eating.

According to the new nationwide survey of American adults conducted by Harris Interactive, 56 percent of consumers are opposed to an ‘obesity tax’, with 42 percent saying they are ‘strongly opposed’. Just under a third of consumers (31 percent) support the tax.

Location and education

Regina Corso, director of The Harris Poll ​at​Harris Interactive highlights that consumers’ location makes a difference in their attitudes to the ‘obesity tax’.

“Those who live in the East are the most supportive of the tax on soft drinks and fast food with 42 percent supporting it and just half opposing it, followed by those in the West where 35 percent support it and 53 percent oppose the ‘obesity tax.’ However, just one-quarter of those who live in the South (25 percent) support the tax while three in five (61 percent) oppose it. Midwesterners are not that different from those in the South, as 28 percent of them support the ‘obesity tax’ and 57 percent oppose it.”

The online survey, conducted last month with 2,140 participants, also found differences in opinion according to income. Only around a quarter of consumers earning under $50,000 support the tax, while almost 40 percent of those earning $75,000 were in favor.

The poll also found that the more educated the consumer, the more likely they were to support a tax on fast food and soda. A quarter of those with a high school education supported the tax, compared to 34 percent of those who attended college and 41 per cent of those with at least a college degree.

“These taxes are being hard fought and it is not just those in the industry who are against them. At the moment, supporters of the taxes on fast foods and soft drinks need to convince the American public that they are both necessary and that they will help curb this problem,”​ says Corso.

Tax proposals

Despite strong opposition from consumers and industry, several states around the country have already gone ahead with proposals for tax on soda.

New York governor David Paterson revived the idea of a penny-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks in January, as the city looked for ways to close its budget gap. Mississippi’s state representative John Mayo introduced legislation to tax the syrup used to sweeten soda at a distribution level in January. In Kansas, Senator John Vratil put forward a proposal for a penny tax per teaspoon of sugar in soda, and Colorado has removed existing tax breaks on sugary beverages and candy. Just last month, the Washington D.C. Council voted to include sweetened soft drinks in its six percent sales tax bracket.

However, a proposed federal-level soda tax was left off the agenda in February, and last month a proposed two-cent-per-ounce soda tax in Philadelphia was shelved.

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