Hunger the ‘least important’ factor in determining what we eat
Fast-food and soft drinks account for “a minority” of calories we consume but we focus on those items while ignoring foods such as potatoes, chicken and meat which account for most of our calorie intake, Prof Mike Gibney, head of UCD’s centre for food and health, said yesterday. Asked if a fat and sugar tax would curb obesity rates, he said everything should be on the table.
“The question is: how do you define if it works?”He seriously doubted a claim that a tax of 10 per cent on sugary drinks would reduce the number of obese adults by 10,000. If someone cut back on sugary drinks their bodies would seek those calories elsewhere.
“It’s very easy to talk about how a tax would reduce your intake. I’m not too sure how that would impact long-term on obesity. If I thought it would, I would be the first to vote for it.”He said this “tsunami of lard” tended to come in waves throughout centuries and by blaming one thing we were ignoring the complexity of the problem. Hippocrates [who was born in 460 BC] wrote in his essay on the Scythians that the girls were “amazingly flabby and podgy” while obesity was common in ancient Rome.“Food choice is the most complicated thing you are ever going to see,” he said. What we ate was determined by anthropology, biology, sociology and psychology, while hunger was the least important issue.
He was speaking at an open meeting in Dublin organised by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland’s food safety consultative council with the theme: “Who is responsible for what we eat?”
The authority’s chief executive, Prof Alan O’Reilly, said measures such as taxes on certain categories of food could lead to claims of a nanny state and they ignored all the other causes of obesity. If you taxed fat and sugar because they caused obesity, then shouldn’t you tax sofas and televisions?
“People over-eat and they eat the wrong foods and so on…but people also don’t take enough exercise, so why not tax all of the other aspects like lifts, escalators…why focus just on food with respect to fiscal measures?”
He said the food industry had a window of opportunity to voluntarily introduce healthier options with reduced fat and sugar. If they failed to do so more stringent regulations and tighter controls would be brought in. He called for a carrot and stick approach, similar to that used in reducing road deaths.
Prof Reilly also pointed to a recent initiative by the Dubai municipality which gave people one gram of gold for each kilo of weight they lost over a month.
“People were queuing to lose weight. Maybe Minister Noonan should have introduced that in the budget,” he added, not entirely seriously.
Please see the Irish Times for more details.
The Beverage Council of Ireland and Food and Drink Ireland have warned that if a 10% sugar tax is introduced in Ireland, shoppers could end up crossing the border to bulk buy soft drinks, chocolate, biscuits etc. as was the case in Denmark. The Danish fat tax example shows that it did not only threaten Danish jobs, but the tax was creating little or no health benefit.
While on one hand experts say the tax would be a ‘wake-up call’ to people consuming the wrong foods and doctors believe the tax would start conversations on healthy eating, industry spokespeople argue that it would do little to reduce obesity levels. Declan Jackson of the Beverage Council reports that 60% of people in Ireland do not consume soft drinks at all, and of those 40% who do, soft drinks only constitute 3.6% of their daily caloric intake. The interesting detail is that the obesity profile between both groups is identical. Further evidence to show there is little correlation between obesity and soft drinks consumption is shown by the fact that obesity rates rose from 14% in 1996 to 23% in 2006, yet between 2000 and 2011 the sales of sugar-sweetened drinks fell 19%.
A more effective way to improve public health is through more targeted solutions, such as the new laws which call for more detailed nutritional information on the front of food products, says Paul Kelly, director of Food and Drink Ireland.
The whole article is available here.
This article in the Irish Medical Times is a good illustration of the emerging parameters of the debate on a proposed tax on sugar-sweetened drinks in Ireland.
Professor Donal O’Shea, Chair of the Steering Group on the Health Impact Assessment (HIA) on such a tax, has said that ‘while there was evidence linking sugar-sweetened drinks to energy intake… the evidence became less robust and was suggestive but not conclusive’ with regard to their contribution to weight gain.
While remaining objective in his role as Chair, Professor O’Shea has expressed that the ‘absence of evidence does not mean a measure will not work’ and that ‘action is needed and where evidence is lacking on measures, it should be accumulated, with policies reviewed in that light.’
Almost two out of three people believe introducing a sugar tax in Ireland will make no different to obesity rates.
These findings come from a survey ran by IrishHealth.com, Ireland’s premier Independent health site. 62% people said a sugar tax would make difference, 21% said yes and 7% were unsure.
The poll comes in response to Health Minister James Reilly’s insistence that a ‘sugar tax’ on soft drinks is still on the cards, despite being postponed by the government.
You can read the full article by following this link, and see the poll results by following this link.
“We believe that education, not taxation, is the way to support consumers in adopting a balanced diet and leading healthy, active lifestyles” – Sinead Finnegan, Beverage Council of Ireland
A ‘sugar tax’ on soft drinks was narrowly excluded from the Irish budget for 2013, although the issue remains on the table according to key support Health Minister Reilly. Gillian Hamill of Shelf-Life.ie – leading Irish retail and grocery business publication – writes on the potential consequences of adopting such discriminatory measures.
Ms. Hamill highlights Finance Minister Noonan’s reasoning for rejecting the tax – that soft drinks already carry 23% VAT, whilst neither water nor milk are subject to VAT; and the fact that the tax, which would have added 20c to a bottle of soft drink, would have been likely absorbed by retailers.
On the link between soft drinks and obesity: “The wisdom of singling out soft drinks in the fight against the country’s rising obesity levels has also been questioned.” It is internationally accepted that the causes obesity and nutrition-related NCDs are multi-faceted.
Overall, the article advocated for ‘learning the lessons’ of the Danish u-turn on its ‘fat tax’ and using this period – whilst there is no immediate threat on the horizon – to use existing research to develop science-based obesity-management policies that will actually work.
To read the article in full, follow this link.