The idea of fighting obesity by taxing calories or sugary drinks continues to stir debate. USA Today published an opinion yesterday by David Zinczenko, editor in chief of Men’s Health, who proposes a calorie-added tax to fight obesity.

“The prevalence of obesity among America’s children has roughly tripled in the past 30 years, and the health burden that we are foisting upon our kids as a result is horrific,” Zinczenko writes. “One in three children born in 2000 will be diagnosed with diabetes in his or her lifetime, a disease whose effects include blindness, amputation, coma and death. This is not the children’s doing; it is ours. We owe it to them to find a solution.”

Zinczenko’s solution, of course, is to attempt to cripple some of America’s food manufacturers.

“Diabetes is a disease linked with obesity, and the main contributors to our rising obesity rate are twofold: Food manufacturers have increased portion sizes, and they’ve filled many of our favorite foods with empty calories, often with additives such as high-fructose corn syrup. From 1970 to 1990 alone, our intake of high-fructose corn syrup rose more than 1,000 percent, paralleling our skyrocketing rates of obesity.”

Zinczenko’s calorie-added tax would kick in whenever a food is produced using high-fructose corn syrup. He believes such a tax would diminish the incentive manufacturers now have to add HFCS to food products.

Any new tax is likely to be met with strong opposition in today’s struggling economy, but the idea of a “sin” tax on food similar to that imposed on alcohol and tobacco would seem to be political suicide for any legislative sponsor. Additionally, should such a calorie tax be implemented, and if it were actually successful in altering behavior, revenue from such a tax would increasingly decline.

But would such a calorie tax alter behavior in a way that actually reduces obesity? In other words, what is the cause of the obesity? Indeed, America’s consumption of junk food contributes to the fact that many of us are overweight, including our children. Reducing the consumption of junk food would certainly help, but it does nothing to address the sedentary lifestyle of many Americans.

So, if we really want to use taxes to alter behavior, let’s include taxes on everything that makes us obese. Want to lie on the couch and watch a football game? Let’s put a “relaxation tax” on sofas and televisions. As for helping fight childhood obesity, how about a tax on video games and other devices that keep our children from exercising? — Greg Henderson, editor