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Denmark's "fat tax" aims at life expectancy – not just waistlines

ButterIn my kitchen, I fancy myself Julia Child. OK, not exactly… but the two of us do share a mutual affinity for a common ingredient: butter. And so I was intrigued to read that Denmark recently became the first country to begin raising the prices of fattening food — a “fat tax” that adds 16 Danish kroner per kilogram of saturated fat to food with saturated fat content exceeding 2.3 percent (which equates to about $1.29 per pound of saturated fat).

Romania and Finland may soon be joining Denmark by rolling out similar taxes. In the United States, similar sin taxes (such as a proposed soda tax) might help improve our country's obesity problem. But, as a recent Booster Shots entry pointed out, leaders in Denmark have a different health goal in mind:

The fat tax isn’t aimed at curbing obesity. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the obesity rate in Denmark was 13.4 percent last year, below the European average of 15.5 percent. But Denmark lags in terms of life expectancy, and the country hopes the measure will increase the average lifespan by three years over the next decade.

When then-health minister Jakob Axel Nielsen proposed a variety of sin taxes on unhealthy foods in 2009, he explained that “higher fees on sugar, fat and tobacco is an important step on the way toward a higher average life expectancy in Denmark.” The fat tax was especially critical because “saturated fats can cause cardiovascular disease and cancer,” he said, according to the AP.

Butter in Denmark would increase in price by an estimated 39 cents for a small package - it may not bust budgets, but would hopefully discourage Danes from consuming as much. Though to some Danes, it may make no difference at all: Copenhagen resident Mathias Buch Jensen told The Guardian, “I would fry cabbage in butter, and add a little more butter at the end. That way at least I’m getting my vegetables.”

A man after my own heart.

Photo by Steve Johnson

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