Obesity is a persistent and spiraling health problem that has become a mounting economic concern, and the North American statistics have become more alarming every year.
Obesity is associated with hypertension, stroke, coronary heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, certain types of cancer and a plethora of internal organ diseases. According to a variety of studies, two thirds of the U.S. population is now either overweight or obese and Canadians are not far behind.
These surveys also cite an even more alarming trend in those less than five years old: one quarter of kids in this age group are overweight or obese.
In Canada the number of obese kids has tripled since 1987. The data also shows the heaviest individuals are twice as heavy as they were 10 years ago. The obesity related costs to the health system in the U.S. alone were $147 billion just four years ago and have gotten worse since then.
Days ago, the Ontario Medical Association proposed not only increasing tax on junk food and lowering taxes on healthy foods, but advocated labelling unhealthy foods with visual warnings similar to those found on cigarette packaging. The expected, typical objections arose from the lobbyists in the food industry with cries of everything from increased labelling expenses to penalizing poor people with higher taxes.
There also seems to be a sort of embedded cultural celebration of excess in the ability of people to eat such outrageous food as deep fried chocolate bars or Rochester, New York’s famous ‘trash plate,’ which consists of French fries, cheeseburgers, pasta salad, macaroni and cheese, baked beans and extra cooking grease piled high on a single plate, just daring your arteries to say uncle.
The accusation that taxing fast food is just penalizing poor people is unfounded. Certainly fast food would be a little more expensive, but the OMA is recommending cutting the tax on healthy food and therefore making it more affordable. For a given calorie count, you get much more food volume (not to mention nutrients) with fruits and vegetables than you do with fast food. That is because fast food is calorie-dense and so if you eat until you are full you have ingested a huge number of calories, most of which go straight into storage as fat. Labelling costs should not be any higher since packaging is already crammed full of advertising. Cigarette manufacturers have managed this.
Lack of exercise and poor eating habits both contribute to the obesity epidemic and we have to make a better effort at both. Taxes and packaging changes along with anti-smoking advertising campaigns have helped to continue to reduce the number of young smokers and there is no real reason to think that the OMA’s proposal would not have a positive effect.
Kerry Senchyna holds a bachelor of science degree in kinesiology and is owner of West Coast Kinesiology.