The Straits Times
Published on Dec 22, 2012

Fat chance of a fat tax


DR ANDY Ho offered an interesting proposition of levying a fat tax on major food companies or "Big Food" ("Weighing the need for a fat tax"; last Saturday).

While I agree that obesity must be tackled and reduced, it must be noted that Big Food is not the only source of obesity: Individual choices and unhealthy food not associated with Big Food matter as well.

Moreover, there are other less potentially controversial ways to combat obesity.

For some individuals at least, obesity is a voluntary affair. The potential of "calorie distracters" to obscure the truth may be overblown. Instead, individuals who know better but who have a problem with self-control often use misleading labels as an excuse to indulge without having to admit to the mismanagement of their diet.

In other words, not all Singaporeans are being innocently manipulated by Big Food, and at least some are complicit in engaging in self-deception.

One should also appreciate that Big Food is not the sole producer of unhealthy foods. Some popular local fare are none too healthy either. Even home cooking using high quality ingredients does not guarantee a nutritious meal - imagine French fries made by deep frying organic potatoes in olive oil.

Given the multiple sources of obesity, a fat tax punishing Big Food is not the only way to reduce obesity.

A fat tax is bound to be contentious and Big Food is unlikely to accept such a measure gracefully. An alternative (or complementary) solution is to facilitate greater transparency in nutritional information.

The Health Promotion Board can use television advertisements or programmes to raise public awareness of the costs of obesity and promote healthier eating habits.

Popular food outlets should be required to include calorie content information in their menus.

Some may doubt the effectiveness of such measures if individuals are intent on fooling themselves but the measures help to deny these individuals the excuses they need for continuing to overeat, and to enlighten those who are either ignorant or genuinely misled by Big Food.

Alden Cheng