This month’s issue of Esquire features a profile of eccentric Texas millionaire Irwin Leba, who has made it his life’s mission to persuade Congress to tax American fat — the kind that’s in people, not the kind in food. [Warning: As befits such a weighty topic, there’s some adult language in the article.] Leba has even set up his own think tank, the Institute for a Healthy America, featuring a very convenient fat tax calculator. Says Leba, “This tax is a great idea, the only truly great one I’ve ever had. And I’m going to fight like hell to make it real.”
Thankfully, this hideous proposal is in fact a clever April Fool’s Day hoax by Esquire and veteran hoaxster Alan Abel, the mastermind behind the Society for the Indecency to Naked Animals (“A nude horse is a rude horse!”) and the KKK Orchestra (to promote a “kinder, gentler” image of the Klan). The Washington Post figured out the ruse, reporting that many Esquire readers (and fact checkers!) were taken in: “Most of the angry e-mails came from weightlifting readers whose buff, muscle-bound physiques give them a body-mass index [BMI] that would raise their taxes under Leba’s plan.” The angry readers have a point: The BMI has serious limitations as a measurement of obesity.
Unfortunately, the fat tax is no joke. Yale professor Kelly Brownell has been advocating a tax on fatty foods for years, despite his admission that “we don’t know” if such a tax would actually work. Just last week, the head of the Canadian Medical Association voiced her support for such a tax as well.