Unfortunately, the author of the news article under consideration today is not credited, but it comes from the website EurActiv.com. There seems to be a growing conviction in the European Union regarding food: that in order to prevent dangerous obesity, governments need to take action in the areas of labeling, regulation, and especially taxation.
The feeling is that sugar and salt-laden foods should be heavily taxed, just like tobacco, in hopes of discouraging people from consuming them. The proponents are quite frank about basing this treatment on the anti-tobacco model because it has been so successful.
The writer says:
With European children getting heavier and less active, health experts say policymakers should draw a lesson from anti-tobacco campaigns and consider heavier taxation schemes to combat teenage fat… The campaign against tobacco use — steep taxes on cigarettes, coupled with government regulation of tobacco use and advertising — offer a model for tackling excessive eating.
The need for these measures is taken quite seriously because at any given moment the EU contains around 22 million overweight or obese kids, and their number increases yearly by another 400,000. Of course, in Europe, just as in America, concerned public officials believe the government should also promote healthful eating habits and exercise.
For the opposing view, the authority quoted is Marcela González-Gross, of the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, who does not see the cases as parallel. However successful anti-smoking actions may be, she has doubts about the efficacy of the kind of legislation that works against smoking when it is used against the overconsumption of the wrong kinds of food.
The article lays out the González-Gross point of view:
She noted that obesity rates continue to rise in parts of the United States despite localized efforts to tax fatty foods and restrict salty, sugary snacks and soft drinks in schools. More than 33% of Americans are obese, compared to 10% of Europeans.
Another factor mentioned by González-Gross is that kids who don’t eat breakfast tend more toward overweight and are sicklier in general. Despite this known fact, a quarter of the teenagers in Europe are breakfast-skippers.
And, as always, on every continent, there are groups and spokespeople who purport to advocate for the public interest, but may just be lobbying for business interests. They remind the voters that any tax on food will have the cruelest effects on people who are poor already. While this is undeniably true, food taxes also have an adverse effect on the profits of the food corporations.
From South Africa, David Smith reported on a survey undertaken by some marketing consultants on behalf of the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), according to which 61% of the South African people are overweight or obese; and of the children younger than nine years, 17% are overweight.
GSK pokesperson Jonathan Girling is quoted as saying something that doesn’t even make sense:
What we have found is that obesity is not more prevalent in the lower social class than the upper so it’s certainly not a middle class issue.
The researchers learned that people’s ideas and beliefs about who is obese and who is not don’t always line up with observable reality. Smith says:
74% of South Africans think their fellow citizens are overweight and only 34% consider themselves as overweight or obese.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “Behold: the world’s 10 fattest countries,” GlobalPost.com, 11/22/10
Source: “EU urged to combat child obesity ‘tobacco-style,’” EurActive.com, 12/06/11
Source: “South Africans among world’s fattest people, survey finds,” Guardian.co.uk, 09/09/10
Image by John LeGear, used under its Creative Commons license.