The rise in obesity around the country has led a number of investigators to seek solutions in the realm of public policy. Among those is Kelly D. Brownell, Ph.D., director of the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders, who advocates a six-step solution that would, among other measures, impose a tax on foods of poor nutritional quality.
While the idea of a “fat tax” has raised eyebrows (and the ire of many a conservative talk-show host concerned about limits on our right to eat whatever we want), it makes perfect sense to Brownell, a professor of psychology and of epidemiology and public health. He sees a health system far more focused on treatment than on prevention of obesity. He argues that “for every person we successfully treat and remove from the obese population, there are thousands more entering it.” In addition to taxing junk foods, his plan calls for publicly financing recreation centers and bike paths, regulating food advertising aimed at children, banning fast foods and soft drinks in schools, subsidizing healthy foods, and incorporating nutrition education in school lunch programs. “I think we have been obsessed with the biology and missed the obvious,” says Brownell. “It’s the horrible food and lack of physical activity that are causing the problem.”