Two Senate Democrats have proposed legislation that would raise taxes on companies that market “junk food” to kids, and then use the tax revenue to buy fruits and vegetables for school children under an existing federal program.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) says his Stop Subsidizing Child Obesity Act is needed because American children are growing fat, in large part because companies are allowed to deduct from their tax bill the cost of marketing low-nutrition food to children. His bill would end this tax deduction — or in his words, this tax “loophole” — in a bid to force companies to focus marketing efforts on healthier food.

Richard Blumenthal Tom Harkin taxes junk food

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., (right) is proposing a tax on “junk food” marketing, and spending the money on healthy food for school children. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)

“By eliminating the nonsensical tax loophole allowing companies to write off the cost of marketing junk food and sugary beverages to children, the Stop Subsidizing Childhood Obesity Act will encourage companies to put their creative talents toward promoting nutritious foods, and bring in revenue that will be put to good use – providing fresh fruits and vegetables for elementary school children,” Blumenthal said this week.

Democrats are already under fire from many Republicans who say the federal government’s school lunch rules are too restrictive, and are resulting in meals without enough calories to satisfy everyone. Blumenthal’s bill goes a step further by trying to dictate what people eat in their own homes.

The bill also has the potential to raise taxes on a wide range of food products found in the supermarket, as well as brands that are associated with “junk food,” something that could rope in purveyors of fast food.

Under the legislation, companies could no longer deduct from their taxes the cost of marketing food of “poor nutritional quality” to children. Costs associated with marketing brand names that are “primarily associated with food of poor nutritional quality” could no longer be deducted either.

The bill would require the government to enter into a contract with the Institute of Medicine, which would be tasked with deciding which foods and which brands are to be targeted by the law. The IOM would have one year to reach these definitions.

The IOM is an independent nonprofit organization that bills itself as “the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences,” which works to answer “the nation’s most pressing questions about health and healthcare.”

Any money raised by ending the tax deduction on junk food marketing costs would go to the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which helps fund the purchase of healthy snacks for kids in school.

Blumenthal said childhood obesity is on the rise, and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) called it a “crisis” that the government must take steps to mitigate. “[O]ne effective way of combating this epidemic is to ensure that our children are not confronted by persistent advertising from soda, snack, and candy makers,” he said.

“Overall, American children and youth are not achieving basic nutritional goals,” the bill reads. “They are consuming excess calories and added sugars and have higher than recommended intakes of sodium, total fat, and saturated fats.”

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