Recent reports by French senators Yves Daudigny and Catherine Deroche and by Professor Serge Hercberg highlight the public health problems (cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer) linked to expanding waistlines. The Hercberg report also notes that, since France’s National Nutrition and Health Programme was launched in 2000, it has not halted rises in excess weight, diabetes or hypertension. The solutions suggested in both reports are based on three lines of analysis: (a) the social cost of excess weight; (b) irrational behaviour by consumers; and, to a lesser degree, (c) social inequalities in health. Instituting new taxes on foods targeted for lower consumption would be the main remedy. Subsidies (financed by these levies) for healthful foods would provide new incentives to encourage their consumption. Nevertheless, both reports note that poor nutrition and its consequences are a complex problem that calls for an entire set of solutions, though they mostly favour tax measures. These are not a panacea, however: their effects on changes in dietary habits are often uncertain, making it hard to pursue the stated goals.
The impact of taxes in reducing the consumption of nutritionally poor foods is uncertain.
While the goals may be laudable (though this is questionable), there is a major risk of applying additional constraints on economic activity without getting the expected public health benefits (in particular, improved results from France’s National Nutrition and Health Program) while nurturing a dynamic of government interventionism that is making French society more sclerotic. Experts and public authorities tend to depict a black‐and‐white situation, whereas reality is far more complex. Excess weight and the pathologies it leads to are a relatively recent problem in the history of humankind. We still lack the full knowledge that could guarantee an adequate solution.
Although nutrition taxes may appear to provide a response, it is important to understand their limits, especially in terms of a rational approach to avoidance, because the economic costs of these taxes are high in the long run. We should not delude ourselves. In this time of strained public finances, an ulterior motive in the renewed interest in this type of levy is to generate more tax receipts. There are many precedents. President Franklin D. Roosevelt ended the prohibition of alcohol in the United States to boost tax revenues. Due to the Great Depression, Congress had an urgent need for financing, and the best way to get it was to institute taxes on alcohol.
It is always preferable to change the context in which individuals make decisions so that they internalise the externalities they create. In this regard, obesity imposes few or no externalities if individuals bear its costs. We must therefore make sure that incentives for reducing obe‐
sity are in place. Nutrition taxes, by imposing the theoretical frame work of caloric imbalance, would limit the emergence of new ideas that could help reduce excess weight. In the end, we need to show a degree of humility toward the social and biological process. Western society, open and based on free enterprise, dates back only to the late 18th century. It is possible that the human body, after many thousands of years of survival in penury, has not yet adjusted to the abundance generated by capitalism.
To read the full report, please follow this link http://www.institutmolinari.org/IMG/pdf/note0314_en.pdf
New research suggests the UK’s rise in obesity has not been caused by, as many have suggested, high-fat foods and sugary drinks but by a lack of physical activity.
Conducted by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), the briefing paper argues against the claim that calorie consumption has been the primary cause of the UK’s expanding waistline. Indeed, according to the IEA the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that per capita consumption of sugar, fat and calories has been falling in the UK for several decades.
The Fat Lie examines evidence from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the National Diet and Nutrition Survey, the ONS and the British Heart Foundation.
The average weight of an English adult has increased by two kilograms since 2002. Yet over the same period calorie consumption fell four per cent and sugar consumption dropped nearly 7.5 per cent. The amount of calories consumed outside the home also tumbled from 310 in 2001/02 to 219 in 2012.
But while Brits were cutting back on cake, physical activity has also taken a back seat. In 2010 the average Brit walked 179 miles – compared with 255 miles in 1976.
Cycling had also dropped to an average of 42 miles a year by 2010, compared with 51 in 1976.
As many as 40 per cent of people reported spending no time walking at work. The IEA points out that the rise in sedentary office jobs and labour-saving devices mean people are not compelled to undertake the same amount of physical activity they used to.
Report author Christopher Snowdon said: “With obesity now featuring so heavily in the media it is worrying that so few people know that our largely sedentary lifestyles, not our appetites, have been the driving force behind the UK’s expanding waistlines”.
The report draws three key findings from the evidence gathered, the first being that the food industry, which has been the target of increasingly polemical public health campaigns, is not the main culprit for rising obesity. It could also put paid to some campaigners who argue that bans and taxes on certain types of food and drink could significantly reduce obesity numbers.
Second, while people tend to play fast and loose with the amount they say they eat, it remains “extremely unlikely” that the almost uninterrupted fall in calorie consumption is down to people telling fibs about how much they eat.
Furthermore, the report argues a one-size-fits-all solution is inadequate when it comes to reducing obesity. The report acknowledges while average calorie consumption has fallen this does not mean everyone is eating less; however, the IEA urges scepticism about claims that cutting the UK’s calorie intake will reverse the rise in obesity.
Please read the full article here.
New research finds UK’s rise in obesity has been primarily caused by a decline in physical activity
The rise in obesity amongst the UK population has been primarily caused by a decline in physical activity. Using government figures, this new study debunks the popular belief that the rise in obesity in recent decades is the result of increased calorie consumption in general, and sugar in particular.In The Fat Lie, Christopher Snowdon studies evidence from DEFRA, the National Diet and Nutrition Survey, the ONS and the British Heart Foundation, finding that all the evidence indicates that per capita consumption of sugar, fat and calories has been falling in the UK for decades.Despite public health campaigners portraying Britain’s obesity ‘epidemic’ as a result of increased availability of junk food, this conventional wisdom has no basis in fact. People have reduced the number of calories they consume, but have reduced the amount they move around even more.
- Since 2002, the average body weight of English adults has increased by two kilograms. This has coincided with a decline in calorie consumption of over 4% and a decline in sugar consumption of nearly 7.5%.
- Of food eaten outside the home, daily calories consumed have fallen from 310 in 2001/02 to 219 in 2012, a drop of nearly one hundred calories per day in ten years.
- Data for eating out does not go back prior to 2000, but we do know that Britons were consuming more calories in the home in 1974 than Britons consumed in and outside the home combined in 2012.
- Despite falling calorie intake, average body mass has increased by 5 kilograms since 1993. The crucial missing variable, often overlooked by campaigners, is energy expended.
- Britons walk an average of 179 miles a year, down from 255 miles in 1976 and also cycle less; averaging 42 miles a year compared to 51 miles in 1976. 40% of people report spending no time even walking at work. The rise of office jobs and labour saving devices means people have fewer opportunities for physical activity, both at work and at home
- ‘Big Food’ is not to blame
Food supply is a more inviting target for health campaigners than the sedentary lifestyles of the general public. A war on the food industry requires no stigmatisation of individuals and there are a readymade set of policies available which have been tried and tested in the campaigns against tobacco and alcohol.
- Under-reporting of eating habits does not change conclusions
Although measuring the diet can be difficult because people tend to downplay the amount they eat, the question is not whether people under-report but the extent to which under-reporting has changed over time. It is extremely unlikely people have become so forgetful that the large and virtually uninterrupted fall in calorie consumption reported in successive studies can be explained by misreporting.
- A one-size-fits-all response is not the solution
The fact that Britons, on average, are eating fewer calories does not mean that everybody is eating less, but we should be sceptical about those who claim that reducing calorie intake across the population will lead to less obesity. That clearly hasn’t happened in the past.
Commenting on the report, its author, Christopher Snowdon, said:“The root cause of Britain’s rising obesity levels has not been a rise in calorie intake but a rise in inactivity. With obesity now featuring so heavily in the media it is worrying that so few people know that our largely sedentary lifestyles, not our appetites, have been the driving force behind the UK’s expanding waistlines.
“Campaigners promoting a healthy lifestyle should refocus their efforts towards encouraging exercise and away from a war on food. Anti-market policies aimed at the whole population such as fat taxes will do nothing for the nation’s health.”
What do Latin American governments do when they realize they are spending more money than they have? In part, they raise taxes on the poor in the name of fighting obesity by taxing food and beverages. That’s only the beginning of the ugliness.
It started last year in Mexico, where former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent a controversial $10 million of his own money to influence the outcome of a proposed tax on sugar-sweetened beverages and high-calorie foods. The billionaire’s own advocacy group now admits that the money was used, in part, to fund scientists to produce research that would support the taxes, according to both the Associated Press and the Bloomberg Philanthropies webpage. This type of outcome-oriented research may get the job done in terms of advancing a political agenda, but it won’t address obesity.
A recent article in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics explains consumer behavior in the face of such taxes. Lead author Chen Zhen explained, “Consumers can simply substitute a taxed high calorie for an untaxed one.” Reduced consumption of certain foods does not necessarily cause a reduction in obesity.
In fact, Bloomberg food police ally Marion Nestle, food policy and nutrition professor at New York University told Politico last month that, “If the taxes are shown to reduce consumption – and I’m hoping studies are under way – I’d say it’s game over.” The taxes will be adopted across the United States even if the Bloomberg-funded Mexican tax has an impact only on consumption, but not obesity.
Now, after enactment last year of a peso-per-liter soda tax in Mexico, the fad is spreading to other nations of Latin America. Chilean president Michelle Bachelet is enacting a soda tax as part of a wider set of measures targeting foods she doesn’t want her citizens to eat. So is Argentina, as it teeters on the brink of its second debt default in 13 years. In Brazil, where officials increased taxes on sodas, beer and energy drinks by 19 percent to 23 percent over the past two years, revenue-starved officials sought a further tax hike timed to bilk thirsty soccer fans from around the world. At the last minute, the World Cup taxes were given a time out until the fall.
Clearly, the science to support these taxes as a serious anti-obesity tool hasn’t yet been established, despite Bloomberg’s millions. So why was the tax adopted?
Rather simply, it is Sutton’s Law. The “law” is named after the infamous American bank robber Willie Sutton, who was incorrectly credited with answering a reporter who asked him why he robs banks by saying, “That’s where the money is.”
According to Christopher Wilson, an associate at the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, “Traditionally, 30 to 40 percent of the budget came from oil exports, and that has been declining. That has made for a strong imperative to increase tax collection, which is extraordinarily low as a portion of GDP, and that is the driving force behind fiscal reform,” Wilson told the magazine, Governing, in reference to the food and soda tax. Mexicans spend money on high-calorie food and soda, so Willie Sutton would have taxed it, too.
The problem is, taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages and so-called “junk-foods” have a disproportionate impact on the poor. To Bloomberg, whom nobody could accuse of being poor, this isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. Since there’s a high-rate of obesity among lower socio-economic groups, a sin tax that hits poor people the hardest is right on target.
But there’s more to it than money. Even proponents of the taxes concede they aren’t a silver bullet. Throughout Latin America, advocates are pushing a full menu of laws and regulations aimed at soda and food. At the top of the food police wish-list is a restriction on the advertising of foods they don’t want people to eat. Instead of following the science, proponents of advertising restrictions attempt to advance their cause in a way that makes Bloomberg’s attempt to purchase science look honorable by comparison. Activists in Canada, the United States and Chile are suggesting that advertising to kids is akin to molesting children.
Assistant Professor at the University of Ottawa Dr. Yoni Freedhoff says it most delicately, “We need to stop allowing the food industry to target our most vulnerable and precious population, our children.” New York’s Meme Roth, founder of “National Action Against Obesity” is less subtle in evoking thoughts of child molestation by referring to food advertising to children as “predatory” and arguing that we shouldn’t let food company executives have a “relationship with our kids.”
But it took the chairman of the Committee on Health of the Chilean Senate to put innuendo aside and make the allegation Freedhoff and Roth were too polite to directly state. Senator Guido Girardi, told La Nacion that (as translated by Google), “Chile has companies that are the pedophiles of the 21st century, because they abuse children by labeling fatty and sugary food as healthy.”
In their zeal to advance an unpopular agenda, it’s the food police who have become the real creeps. Advocates who want to fight obesity have their hearts in the right place. But that shouldn’t free them from being held to legitimate science and common standards of decency. With a little less emotionally manipulative rhetoric and a bit more nonpartisan science, we could come together and address obesity in a constructive way.
By Jeff Stier
Please find the whole article here.
The European Commission study into the impact of food taxes on consumption and competitiveness in the agri-food sector was published on 16 July. It aims to support policy making by gathering information on the impacts and effectiveness of food tax measures.
It concludes that when looking at whether “changes in consumption resulting from a food tax actually lead to public health improvements […] evidence from academic literature is inconclusive and sometimes contradictory” (page 13).
The study finds hard evidence from a number of Member States on the negative impact food taxes can have on competitiveness and jobs, leading to an increase in administrative burdens, notably if the tax is levied on ingredients or if the tax base is highly differentiated and complicated.
The study concludes that food taxes in general achieve a reduction in the consumption of the taxed products but that product substitution takes place in particular to:
– “Similar non-taxed or less heavily taxed items”.
– “Cheaper brands of the taxed products, thus potentially not lowering their consumption of the ingredient the tax aims to target (i.e. salt, sugar or fat)”.
– “Other products with similar levels of sugar, salt or fat to those that are taxed”.
The full study can be found here.