Obesity is a critical global issue that requires a comprehensive, international intervention strategy.
Much of the global debate on this issue has become polarized and sometimes deeply antagonistic. Obesity is a complex, systemic issue with no single or simple solution. The global discord surrounding how to move forward underscores the need for integrated assessments of potential solutions.
A new McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) discussion paper, Overcoming obesity: An initial economic analysis, seeks to overcome these hurdles by offering an independent view on the components of a potential strategy.
The main findings of the discussion paper include:
- Existing evidence indicates that no single intervention is likely to have a significant overall impact.
- Education and personal responsibility are critical elements of any program aiming to reduce obesity
- No individual sector in society can address obesity on its own
Read the full paper 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.
Taxes on foods high in sugar, salt and fat, do reduce consumption but can lead to consumers simply switching brands or finding other ways to purchase fatty foods while avoiding the tax, according to a new report from the European Commission.
Higher taxes “In general do lead to a reduction in the consumption of the taxed products,” the report concluded. However, consumers can use a variety of methods to purchase the foods they want while avoiding the tax, such as buying similar products that do no fall under same burdensome tax regime or switching brands.
Commissioned by the directorate general for enterprise and industry of the European Commission, the study also argues that fat taxes could have a damaging impact on the EU’s agri-food sector.
SMEs would be particularly vulnerable to fat taxes as consumers switch from premium brand producers to cheaper alternatives. Furthermore, taxes would increase the administrative burden, especially if the taxes are imposed on ingredients or if the rules defining which products are liable under the tax are highly differentiated and complicated.
Director of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) Christopher Snowdon, told City A.M.:
It’s a basic economic principle that when prices go up, consumption goes down. But price rises have other effects, as this study shows, such as making consumers buy cheaper brands from cheaper shops. People will go to any lengths to eat the food they like, and that is why fat taxes never have any measurable effect on obesity.
The report’s warnings echo research conducted by the IEA last year on Denmark’s saturated fat tax. The tax had a variety of negative economic impacts including the loss of 1,300 Danish jobs. At least 10 per cent of the revenue generated by the tax was ploughed back into administration.
One survey found that only seven per cent of Danish consumers cut their purchases of butter, cream and cheese while 80 per cent did not change their shopping behaviour at all.
However, some Danes did switch brands, and others hopped over the border to Sweden and Germany to shop for their favourite high-fat foods.
The Danish government had hoped to collect 1bn krone (£115m) from the tax. But the amount raised came in at 1.4bn krone, suggesting that reduced saturated fat consumption was less than hoped for.
At the same time, the tax was in operation the market for crisps and snacks grew rather than diminished. Public opinion turned overwhelmingly against the tax. In October 2012, 70 per cent of Danes considered the tax to be “bad” or “very bad.” The policy was abandoned 15 months after its introduction.
UNESDA, which represents the soft drinks industry, said the Commission study, “finds hard evidence from a number of member states on the negative impact which food taxes can have on competitiveness and jobs, leading to an increase in administrative burdens.”
However, while the study made some initial conclusions, it also found that further research will be needed in order to assess more extensively the impact fat taxes could have on the competitiveness of the agri-food sector.
Read the full article here
Colorado: Reports that Telluride, Colorado voters “overwhelmingly” rejected a proposed sugar-sweetened drink tax. Elisa Marie Overall, spokeswoman for Kick the Can Telluride, the group pushing the ballot question, said voters voted down the tax by a 68% to 32% margin. The proposal would have imposed a one cent per ounce tax on fizzy drinks, sports and energy drinks, and on sweetened coffees and tea beverages. Also noted is that similar tax proposals have already been rejected in California. The New York large fizzy drink ban proposed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which is still being appealed, is also mentioned.