Pizza might just be the world's greatest food when it comes to flavor, but not when it comes to its effects on your waistline. Cheese doodles are the perfect snack—unless you consider their (lack of) nutritional value. And soda is ideal for washing it all down, putting aside the fact that it's an acidic, sugary caloric bomb of chemicals and high-fructose corn syrup.
Sure, we all love this stuff on a purely pleasure-seeking level, but what about when it comes time to pay our medical bills? And what if you happen to live in a country where the government foots the bill for hospitalizations, medications, and other costs associated with obesity, heart disease, and other ailments tied to a crappy diet?
The "junk food tax" debate has been bouncing back and forth for literally decades, but has just reached its maximum swell in the past three years, with the Navajo Nation becoming the first US territory to implement such a regulation. (In 2011, Denmark placed a tax on high-fat foods such as cheese, pizza, and meat, but then revoked it in 2012 due to bureaucratic and logistical issues.)
Now France is tightening up restrictions on its citizens' insistence on stuffing themselves with junk, via a new regulation that would take aim at one of the subtler proponents of mindless self-fattening: soda refills.
French officials voted Wednesday night to ban unlimited refills of soft drinks at restaurants and fast-food chains nationwide as part of a new set of updated health reforms. The move, which is supported by Health Minister Marisol Touraine and needs to pass through the Senate before being put into action, targets fountain machines—such as those found at fast-food spots and burger joints—everywhere, including public places such as gas stations and malls in addition to restaurants.
Several of France's major fast-food chains—such as Quick and KFC—currently have the bottomless refill system. You know how it goes: They hand you a cup, you fill it up with your weird Coke-Sprite-Dr. Pepper-Mountain Dew combo of choice, and then you hit the machine a couple more times before you exit, just to make sure you got your money's worth. But with a medium non-diet soda at your typical fast-food joint clocking in at 200 calories, you've just tacked an extra 400-600 calories onto your meal without a second thought. Whoops.
Soda is seen as an easy target when it comes to curbing France's climbing obesity rates, due to their high sugar content, empty calories, and lack of any legitimate nutrients. Arnaud Richard, a Parliament member from the UDI (Union of Democrats and Independents) and the author of the amendment, stated it thusly: "It is the role of the law to fix a framework to protect the population against commercial competition which aims to make something free to entice customers and encourage them to consume unhealthy products excessively."
According to the World Health Organization, France has one of the most comprehensive universal health care systems in the world, with federal spending at about $4,260 per capita as of 2012—which adds up to about 11.8 percent of the country's total GDP.
The new health and nutrition reforms aim to lower overall consumption of soda, especially among children, and emphasizes that water is "the only essential drink." Americans consume soda at four times the rate of the French, about 45 gallons per person per year as of 2013, and a total of about 156 pounds of added sugars per year.
As to whether the tax will actually make life sweeter for the French, we'll just have to wait and see.