Denmark’s fat tax: Could it happen in the U.S.?

The Danish government makes global history by imposing a tax on saturated fats. Could that levy be coming to a McDonald's near you?

A supermarket in Denmark: A bag of chips will cost 12 cents more, thanks to a newly instituted tax on saturated fats.
(Image credit: Francis Dean/Corbis)

Would you still eat fatty foods if they suddenly made your wallet skinnier? That's a question being asked in Denmark, which recently became the world's first country to tax foods high in saturated fat. (Saturated fats, a major cause of high cholesterol levels, are found in "butter, cheese, whole milk, ice cream, cream, and fatty meats," reports The New York Times.) Could this fat tax catch on? Here's what you should know:

How does the tax work?

If saturated fat comprises more than 2.3 percent of a food, the item will be subjected to the tax. The levy amounts to 16 Danish kroner per kilogram, or about $1.29 per pound of saturated fat. That breaks down to 40 extra cents for a hamburger, or 12 extra cents for a bag of chips, says Karen Kaplan at the Los Angeles Times.

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Does Denmark need this tax?

The tax isn't necessarily aimed at curbing obesity. Denmark's obesity rate is actually surprisingly low — 13.4 percent, versus the European average of 15.5 percent. But the nation's life expectancy "lags" behind other countries, says Kaplan. And according to former health minister Jakob Axel Nielsen, saturated fats contribute to that problem by causing cardiovascular disease and cancer. The government has already banned the use of trans fats, which lower good cholesterol while raising the bad kind, and taxes sugar and soft drinks.

Could a fat tax catch on elsewhere?

British Prime Minister David Cameron is already "looking at following Denmark," says Daniel Martin at Britain's Daily Mail. He says that "drastic" measures are needed since more than half of Britain's population might be obese by 2050.

What about the U.S.?

Some pundits seem to be on board. "As a nation, we get fatter and fatter every day, and quite frankly, it's disgusting," says CNN's Jack Cafferty. "Plus, it's not like we couldn't use the extra tax revenue, right?" Before we get too excited, says Dr. Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University, let's remember that in the U.S., a country wary of "nanny state" measures, "we can't even get a tax passed on sugary beverages, which ought to be an easy target."

Sources: LA Times, CBS News, Daily Mail, NewsBusters, Washington Post

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