As a worldwide first, Denmark introduced a fat food tax – anything with more than 2.3% saturated fats will now cost extra. Denmark also has bad eating habits, but a rather low obesity rate. Why?
Big Brother Is Watching You Eating?
In the article about Arizona’s obesity tax, we already talked about a UK proposal that toyed with the idea of putting taxes on salt, sugar, saturated fats and alcohol, the big four food ingredients most closely related to rising obesity rates and heart disease. But this is the first time that a government actually did this drastic step.
In Denmark’s population, the reactions are mixed. One Danish woman told ABC News:
Why should the government decide how much fat we eat? They also want to increase the tobacco price very significantly. In theory this is good — it makes unhealthy items expensive so that we do not consume as much or any and that way the health system doesn’t use a lot of money on patients who become sick from overuse of fat and tobacco. However, these taxes take on a big brother feeling. We should not be punished by taxes on items the government decides we should not use.
She poses a valid question also mentioned in above article: Should the government decide or is it a personal responsiblity?
Low Obesity Rate
That this move comes from Denmark is remarkable, as only 10% of its population is obese, compared to 34% in the US and 24.5% in the UK. Yet already in 2004, the country made it illegal for foods to have more than 2% of trans fats, while in summer 2010 taxes on candy bars, ice cream and soft drinks were increased by 25%.
Is Denmark’s low obesity rate due to measures like these or despite them? Would we interpret cause and effect the wrong way around should we follow suit? Maybe a look at how Danes eat helps us further.
Danish Eating Habits
While in the US all-you-can-eat offers and $1 fast food meals are a common sight, eating out is an expensive affair in Denmark, with the average prices being about 50% higher than the European average (PDF). Eating out is therefore reserved for special occasions, and only recently and among younger people with appropriate financial means has eating at fast food restaurants become a more frequent phenomenon.
But when Danes eat at home, things are rather hearty and do not quite follow what health counselors will advise you to eat either.
In the country’s history, due to the Northern climate, fruits and vegetables were hard to come by and still today only play a limited role in the Danes’ palate. Instead, we find foods high in salts and fat, like flæskesteg (roast pork with crackling), gravad laks (cured or salted salmon), hvid labskov (boiled beef stew with potatoes) or smørrebrød (an open rye bread sandwich, often served with bacon, steak, salmon etc.).
The Hearty Eating But Healthy Dane?
Why are most Danes of normal weight, when it seems many of them still eat like their Viking forefathers preparing their longships for a dangerous and exhausting voyage to Greenland and beyond? Is it governmental or self-control?