The Fat Tax

Status: Hoax
image An article in the current issue of Esquire describes the tax-reform campaign of a sixty-six-year-old recluse named Irwin Leba. His idea is to enact a fat tax. The idea is pretty simple. Charge overweight people higher taxes. That way you raise more tax revenue and encourage people to be healthier, at the same time. Here's exactly how it would work:

sometime between January 1 and April 15, every American will have to visit a government-sponsored weigh station and step on a scale. You'll leave with a notarized certificate attesting to your body-mass index (BMI). If that number is 25.5 or higher—24.9 is officially the upper limit of normal—you'll have to pay Uncle Sam a little something extra, corresponding to how overweight you are and scaled to your income.

You can also check out Leba's website,, which operates under the umbrella of an organization calling itself the Institute for a Healthy America. No, none of this is real. It's an early April Fool's day joke. Irwin Leba is none other than Alan Abel, who you can see posing in the thumbnail as Leba. Leba is Abel spelled backwards. The hoax was revealed yesterday in the Washington Post.

April Fools Day Body Manipulation

Posted on Mon Mar 27, 2006


It may be a hoax, but i think its a damn good idea
Posted by Rob  on  Mon Mar 27, 2006  at  01:51 AM
A good idea! It's a horrible idea and definitely should be nothing but a hoax. I am all for encouraging heathy behavior, but we're talking about Big Brother here. We're also basically making it against the law to be overweight since in essence we're fining people for not being healthy (which they pay for in loss of health and life anyway) and using the money to pay for the extraodinary cost of doing this in the first place.

This is just like the member's of Parliament who thought the "Modest Proposal" was a good idea and didn't realize it was a hoax.
Posted by catwhowalksbyhimself  on  Mon Mar 27, 2006  at  05:46 AM
But its our taxes that make sure these obese people have extra health care etc that they need...

if they got charge extra taxes and those taxes went on paying to help them get healthy, then its a good idea for everyone...
Posted by Rob  on  Mon Mar 27, 2006  at  08:13 AM
There is actually serious talk in Canada of putting a tax on junk food. This of course is just another cash grab idea for governments using a politically correct smoke screen to hide their true intentions ($$$$).

On the surface it sounds like a good idea. However, what qualifies as junk food? Some nutritionists think milk (from cows), with its high levels of protein and sugar, is bad for you. And of course just about anything in excess quantities is bad so how do you decide what should be taxed?

One thing for sure, if the government is involved, their going to screw it up.
Posted by Captain Al  on  Mon Mar 27, 2006  at  08:25 AM
Oops, I meant, "they're" going to screw it up.
Posted by Captain Al  on  Mon Mar 27, 2006  at  08:26 AM
I agree with catwhowalksbyhimself. Taxing people for being overweight is cruel, and who's to say that they wouldn't become terribly depressed and start eating MORE (or stay at home and not exercise at all) just by being singled out in such a way? This is NOT a good idea Rob (also why are you assuming that all fat people are on Medicaid/Medicare and therefore costing YOU money??).
Posted by Nymph  on  Mon Mar 27, 2006  at  08:46 AM
Good points Nymph. Just because you are a little overweight doesn't mean you are a using the health system. And what about people that are underweight, such as anorexics? What about heavy caffeine users? They would proabably need as much treatment as an obese person.
Posted by Captain Al  on  Mon Mar 27, 2006  at  09:00 AM
We got on this slippery slope when we decided that cigarette makers are responsible for the consequences of the poor choices made by irresponsible smokers.

We continued by deciding that fast food chains are responsible for the consequences of poor choices made by irresponsible eaters.

The tide is turning against people with unhealthy habits: where once irresponsible people would blame others for their actions, irresponsible people now find that "society" is tired of footing the medical and social costs of their behaviors.

With smoking bans we opened up a Pandora's box: any behavior that has the potential to "affect" others' health is now a matter of city and/or State regulation that even trumps property rights. Bar owners are now responsible for protecting individuals from their own consumer choice of whether or not to enter a restaurant where people smoke.

Fat taxes are for real and here's one reason why:

If it can be argued that cigarette smoke affects others' health and should therefore be regulated, it can similarly be argued that obesity affects others' health and should be regulated: if you're overweight you're more likely to need medical attention...this raises medical costs for everyone, which ultimately means people with health needs (not associated with obesity) are less likely to get medical care.

It won't stop with fat taxes IMO. One day you'll be taxed for *not* exercising.

We all need to get in shape and quit blaming others for our own choices. Short of that we may as well pick up a copy of 1984 for a refresh of what our childrens' future looks like.
Posted by intjudo  on  Mon Mar 27, 2006  at  12:45 PM
This is a funny hoax...and I can't believe that someone would think this could seriously be a real plan for people. :roll:
Posted by Maegan  on  Mon Mar 27, 2006  at  12:53 PM
I am in the UK, where everyone is on the NHS, so all our taxes do get spent on people in hospital.

People who smoke pay taxes on cigarettes, which helps pay for their beds and treatment when they are dying of lung cancer.

I didnt say they should just tax them and leave them too it, i said they should tax them and put that tax to use helping them...

most obese people hate being obese, i know i did, so having a tax that is helping you is double incentive.... you are getting help, and you know that once u have hit a good weight, u can pay less taxes!
Posted by Rob  on  Mon Mar 27, 2006  at  01:36 PM
I think you would see people going on dangerous crash diets and taking questionable diet aids like crazy in the months leading up to the weigh-in which is also very unhealthy.

It's a stupid idea but a funny hoax.
Posted by Zsa Zsa  on  Mon Mar 27, 2006  at  01:47 PM
The word I had to type so I could post here was "big". 😊

Anyway, for fatness to be taxed, Unclean Sam has to know what people weigh, and how they going to find that out? No way they gonna force people to get on a scale.

The fat don't need to "get in shape", because they are already in shape. Just a different shape.

And it isn't "junk food", it's "palatable nourishment". (Take that, Fillmore!)
Posted by eriC draveS  on  Mon Mar 27, 2006  at  04:06 PM
For those of you that think this is a good idea, what about when they require a genetic profile from you. After all your family has some bad genes that will cause you to need more medical care than the "normal" people and you wouldn't want to burden them with your "additional costs" would you?
Posted by Lonewatchman  on  Mon Mar 27, 2006  at  06:41 PM
OK, from someone working for a school district with a "health nazi" (that will charge a teacher $10/month for any of the following "infractions": being overweight, using tobacco, having high blood pressure), I have to say that this sort of thing is very real, and has significant potential, though it's completely inappropriate.

OK, so first we tax people who are overweight. Next, we tax people who are underweight. Oh, but then you can be "skinny fat", so we have to tax people with a body fat % above a set percent.

Oh, but it's also cardiovascular health, not just weight, so let's tax people who can't jog a mile without stopping. Oh, how about people with high blood pressure and high cholesterol? Wait, what about people that insist on driving motorcycles and playing extreme sports? They're certainly driving up health costs!

Need I continue?

Oh, and intjudo: they never decided that fast food restaurants were responsible for their patrons' poor choice. The case was dismissed. But here's my point: KFC, McD's, and BK don't need warning labels - they just need to put full-length mirrors on their entrances! 😉
Posted by Karen  on  Mon Mar 27, 2006  at  06:45 PM
"No way" Uncle Sam could get people on a scale to regulate obesity...just as there's "no way" Uncle Sam can force us to take drug tests.

Just like there's "no way" insurance companies can require us to disclose our drinking and smoking habits, and charge us extra for them.

So many people abused drugs, cigarettes and alcohol that the "rest" of society decided they were tired of subsidizing the damage the substance abusers were causing. Thus governmental and insurance policies changed to require individuals to disclose, submit themselves to measurements related to, and pay extra for these abuses. And/or face jail time. Irresponsibility always comes (eventually) at the price of a loss of freedom, as is the case here.

Overwhelming scientific evidence shows that obesity is a huge health problem. In other words, we have yet another case of widespread substance abuse: food. Food addicts. Individuals abusing their freedom to eat, abandoning their responsibility to eat...responsibly. If it continues, this abandoning of responsibility will eventually result in a corresponding loss of freedom.

You don't think food abuse can be defined, disclosed, regulated, tested for and taxed?

I bet that's what cigarette smokers thought 50 years ago.

I'm not saying a "fat tax" is a good idea. I'm saying fat taxes (and worse) are going to happen one day, and I'm saying this is a direct result of two things: widespread refusal of individuals to enjoy their vices in safety and moderation, and widespread refusal of individuals to hold themselves accountable for their own actions.

I'm also saying that assuming ham-handed cigarette taxes, shutting down liquor stores on Sundays and indoor smoking bans make sense, fat taxes make just as much sense.
Posted by intjudo  on  Mon Mar 27, 2006  at  09:44 PM

Thanks for the correction.

Recently in a local letters-to-the-editor someone wrote in ranting about how ugly cigarette smokers look while they're smoking. She then went on to admit she's overweight. It sure struck me as hypocritical.

I've been smoking one pack of cigarettes per month for years. That's 20 additive-free cigarettes each month; that's my rule and I stick to it without fail. I exercise a lot, my blood pressure, cholestrol, heart rate, muscle mass, diet etc. are exceptional. And unless you're a hard-core sports bum I can probably run circles around you. wouldn't believe the flak I get from obese people about my cigarette smoking. For some reason it's perfectly OK if someone's mass is 50% fat and we're even supposed to brainwash ourselves into believing that's attractive.

But my 20 cigarettes per month...goodness how *ugly.*

And there doesn't seem to be an obese person out there who understands that the risk I incur from my minimal cigarette smoking pales in comparison to their increased risk for heart disease.
Posted by intjudo  on  Mon Mar 27, 2006  at  10:08 PM
Surely the very point of such hoaxes as this is to highlight the issue we've been discussing - of where the government's right to legislate individual behaviour ends.

I imagine that it was the smoking legislation and debates on junk food that prompted this; however, while I think that banning smoking is going too far I would point out that despite the analogies being drawn there is a qualitative difference between unhealthy eating (which physically affects only the abuser) and smoking, which has reasonably well-documented health effects on those around. I'm not justifying blanket smoking bans - as someone who likes a fag with my beer of a Friday night they piss me off - but I do think the analogy is weak.

In Britain, at least, the passive smoking issue was the clincher in getting cigarette smoking controlled; the idea that this will necessarily lead to such things as fat taxes is, I suspect, a bit of a slippery slope fallacy.

Taxes on unhealthy foods, however, are quite another thing - and quite likely to happen.
Posted by outeast  on  Tue Mar 28, 2006  at  12:34 AM
Alan Abel has been keeping me updated about this hoax as it progressed. Unfortunately, the editors at Esquire kind of wussed out, out of fear of what reaction to the article might be. Sheesh! You have NO business putting a hoax in your magazine if you're that chickenshit.

The article is pretty well-written, though.
Posted by Cranky Media Guy  on  Tue Mar 28, 2006  at  02:51 AM
"For those of you that think this is a good idea, what about when they require a genetic profile from you. After all your family has some bad genes that will cause you to need more medical care than the "normal" people and you wouldn't want to burden them with your "additional costs" would you?"

You cant change it if you have a dodgy gene, but you can help being obese, or smoking, or drinking...
Posted by Rob  on  Tue Mar 28, 2006  at  03:06 AM
Rob, it doesn't matter if you can change it or not, the bottom line is people with crummy genes cost more, so clearly we would have to charge them more. Cost doesn't care about choice, if the cost is there the government will want compensation. If we forgive those with bad genes, then people could just say everything they are being charged extra for is biologically based too and then no one pays extra, so we are back at square one. I really wonder about people that are so quick to force the government into everyone else's lives. Maybe you should be charged more for where you live, after all smoggier areas have more asthma, where would it stop?
Posted by Lonewatchman  on  Tue Mar 28, 2006  at  05:21 AM
But its all again down to choice, and with help from professionals, they can change themselves for the better...

People who have dodgy genes, there is nothing they can do about it... so ectra taxes have no benefit to them...

i have said from the start that the government shouldnt get the money, it shud go into helping the people who pay it..
Posted by Rob  on  Tue Mar 28, 2006  at  06:26 AM
What would the cost to the health system be for 300 million people to get regular check-ups for their Fat Tax elligibility? Sooner or later someone would suggest getting rid of the tax to save money.
Posted by Captain Al  on  Tue Mar 28, 2006  at  08:33 AM
I cannot understand this sick love affair with government as nanny.
Posted by Lonewatchman  on  Tue Mar 28, 2006  at  12:28 PM

This guy is pretty funny!

I do agree with outeast that my analogy bends the limits of logic and plausibility...on the other hand, so do groups of people who decide the anecdote to the shortcomings in their own lives involves ganging up on a different group. And, I still think that as a society we're so used to the blame-others approach that every erosion into health-related individual freedom brings us dangerously closer to this type of scenario actually happening.

Case in point: a lot of people contacted Esquire to *support* the idea, and a lot of people contacted Esquire who were actually *afraid* it would happen.
Posted by intjudo  on  Tue Mar 28, 2006  at  10:25 PM
intjudo said:

"This guy is pretty funny!

"Case in point: a lot of people contacted Esquire to *support* the idea, and a lot of people contacted Esquire who were actually *afraid* it would happen."

Yeah, Alan's pretty good at what he does. He's been at it for a half-century or so now, so I guess he's had a lot of practice. As for Esquire, if they hadn't pussied out (the original plans called for them to really push the "fat tax" thing), it could have been REALLY good, even extending into a national debate.
Posted by Cranky Media Guy  on  Wed Mar 29, 2006  at  03:35 AM
A point everyone seems to miss is the manner in which we as individuals pay for helathcare.

Whether this is done through insurance premiums in places where a National Health Service does not exist or through NI contributions like in the UK, people contribute to healthcare in a very specific way. When I die, the executor of my will cannot write to the insurance man or the government and ask them to tot up my expenditure through healthcare compared to my contributions and request a refund for any overpayments made.

Why is that? Because we do not pay for our healthcare on an individual basis, regardless of the way you pay, we all pay together as a society, so we can all be treated when needs be without running the risk of falling ill with an execessively costly condition. As a result of this, regardless of your feeling toward the obese with regards to their increased medical needs, you simply cannot start treating people as individuals and suggest that they pay more.

Once one group is treated seperately from the rest of us, then the floodgates are opened and surely I then have the right to demand that any group I feel is indirectly responsible for raising my personal level of taxation should be left to fend for themselves.
Posted by Harry Shave  on  Wed Mar 29, 2006  at  06:28 AM
"I then have the right to demand that any group I feel is indirectly responsible for raising my personal level of taxation should be left to fend for themselves."

By what standard do we use to determine which groups should be left to fend for themselves? Has government ever maintained a constant level of power or do they always expand their power by expanding their definitions of existing power? How often does a government expand power vs. how often they surrender power?

I think under a private insurance system, at least differant companies can cater to differant sections of the population. In the same way we have banks that specialize in loans for people with poor credit. At least everyone would have a choice, if government is the only system then everyone is subject to whatever the people in charge of government call unhealthy.
Posted by Lonewatchman  on  Wed Mar 29, 2006  at  09:35 AM
"if government is the only system then everyone is subject to whatever the people in charge of government call unhealthy"

You've just described the biggest problem with the Canadian health care system.
Posted by Captain Al  on  Wed Mar 29, 2006  at  05:07 PM
"Once one group is treated seperately from the rest of us, then the floodgates are opened..."

True, and. It's too late. They're already opened. Smokers are charged more. People with a history of heart disease in their family are charged more. People with a history of mental illness are charged more. People who want to hang glide are charged more. Etc. Etc. Etc.

I'm saying there's a slim-to-none chance that this process can be stopped. One by one, the government and health insurance providers are going to keep adding to the ever growing list of conditions they charge extra for. And/or don't cover at all. Including a history of overeating and/or a condition of obesity.

What we'll ultimately end up with is a system where each individual has a detailed profile of everything about his health that's a risk, and each individual paying extra for each of those risks. In other words, we'll essentially all be self-insured.

Except we'll be routing our money through a bunch of beaurocrats and paper pushers, making the whole thing more expensive not just overall, but more expensive to *every single individual* in the system.

Naturally this will prompt healthy people to decide to take on the risk of true self-insurance by opting out of health insurance. This drives up the risk for underwriters selling insurance to a less and less healthy population of subscribers, so premiums for those left in the system go up even more. This dynamic is already happening: take a look at the increasing percentage of uninsured young people.

My family is uninsured, recently paid out of our own pocket for a $10,000 medical procedure. That sounds bad, unless you consider the fact that overall I've actually *saved* a lot of for the last 20 years would have cost a lot more than $10,000. It's made strategic sense *not* to subsidize health care for people who are statistically less healthy than I am.

But when I'm old will make strategic sense to get insurance, and let the healthy people in the system subsidize my health care costs.

Pretty screwy, right? That's why we need to go one way or the other: either no health insurance at all, or true universal coverage. What we have now does nothing more than drive up cost and reduce quality.
Posted by intjudo  on  Wed Mar 29, 2006  at  09:45 PM
I think some of this has gotten a little off topic...but since you've gone this far, my post can't hurt.

I'd just like to point out a big difference between smoking as a bad habit, and obesity as a bad habit. Cigarette/cigar/pipe smoke of any kid cannot be contained. It is going to float around and get into people's clothes & hair. It could even cause fatal problems in asthmatics or people with severe allergies. A fat person, while uncomfortable to sit next to on an airplane, bus, or train...won't actually cause anyone else any physical harm. You can always get up & move.
Posted by Maegan  on  Wed Mar 29, 2006  at  11:02 PM
Maegan, while I agree with you (and in fact that's exactly what I said above) you can't get up and move on a plane. In fact, in contexts such as that obesity does cause others discomfort, if not actual harm - and in most instances discomfort and displeasure are all that public smoking cause others (prologued proximity to heavy smoking and asthmatics etc. specifically excluded, please note).

As to the comments about obesity being different from genetic predispositions to disease (such as Rob's remark that the latter is different because 'People who have dodgy genes, there is nothing they can do about it'), while most people probably become gross simply by overeating too much there may also be a number of genetic influences involved (such as defects in the leptin receptor). So discrimination on the basis of weight might by default mean discrimination on the basis of genetics.

And that's not to mention the possible role of Adenovirus-36, which one study has suggested may be implicated in as much as 15% of cases of human obesity!

Finally, to leave you with an image that will no doubt be of comfort on those cold and lonely nights: if all the surplus fat was siphoned - schhhhquiiilch! - off the American population and squolched into one giant blob, you'd have about 1.5 billion gallons of gross, wobbly, jelly-yellow fat... For the swimmers among you, that's nearly enough to fill 3,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools - or, if you'd rather think gastronomically, it's enough to make an inch-thick sausage that could girdle the earth 250 times!


(Data sourced brom Clark and Russell's 'Molecular Biology Made Simple and Fun'; can't be bothered to hunt down the actual study they cite on PubMed, though I could do so if anyone's that interested.)
Posted by outeast  on  Thu Mar 30, 2006  at  01:04 AM
...So the real question would be - how to turn those billions of gallons of fat into fuel for cars!!
Posted by Maegan  on  Thu Mar 30, 2006  at  07:09 AM
The "Fat Tax" campaign will continue throughout 2006 with a march on Washington planned for this summer. Anyone interested in participating, please let me know via email, along with photo reseme, take-home pay, blood type and degree of adventure. Alan Abel (.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address))
Posted by Alan Abel  on  Tue Apr 11, 2006  at  07:06 PM
Taxing fat people is a bad idea. Debating what is considered fat would be a nightmare. More people would walk to the grocery store or to work if they weren't so far away. By changing the zoning laws, more people could walk/bike to the store/work instead of driving. Zoning laws can be changed slowly, starting with allowing grocery stores in suburben nieghborhoods. More taxes, no thanks, changing zoning laws would promote a healthier lifestyle.


Posted by Thomas  on  Sun Jun 17, 2007  at  10:23 AM
Why don't we just line all fat people against a wall and shoot them?

Dude you are on a slipperly slope. This is the kind of thing they do in China.
Posted by Government Tax Sales  on  Mon Jan 26, 2009  at  10:52 PM
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