obesity

Opinion: Learn from Britain — a junk food ad ban is a bad idea

The outdated playbook of trying to tax and ban things out of existence in a misguided effort to change people’s behaviour

Childhood obesity rates have nearly tripled in the last 30 years. Almost one in three Canadian children is overweight or obese, according to data from Statistics Canada. In an effort to tackle this growing problem, Health Canada has announced it is considering sweeping new legislation to restrict junk food advertising.

A similar plan was mooted but not adopted a few years back, but public health regulators now feel empowered to push this tired idea partly because the British government recently signed off on a new law banning television advertisements before nine in the evening for foods high in sugar. Health Canada says it is examining the British law and recommitting to implementing something similar in Canada.

The months the British government has spent dancing around this issue ought to be enough to ward off any right-thinking Canadian. The law it eventually came up with was a watered-down version of the original proposal, which would have banned all online advertising of anything the government considered “junk food.” Bakeries could have been committing a crime by posting pictures of cakes to Instagram.

The U.K. government now promises its new legislation will eliminate that possibility. But that doesn’t mean the ban is a useful public policy tool. First and foremost, ad bans simply do not work. The British government’s own analysis of its policy predicts it will remove a grand total of 1.7 calories from kids’ diets per day. That’s roughly the equivalent of 1/30th of an Oreo cookie.

It’s safe to assume the same policy would have similarly underwhelming results here in Canada. It won’t help reduce child obesity but it will make life more complicated for the country’s food industry. All this, just as the world enters a post-COVID economic recovery and countries like Britain and Canada need growth and investment more than ever.

The junk food ad ban was pushed through in the U.K. on the back of a sinister campaign weaponizing children’s voices. As the government wrapped up its public consultation on the proposal, it lauded a conveniently timed report supposedly highlighting the crying need for such a drastic policy intervention. The report — or “exposé,”’ as it was branded — was cooked up by Biteback 2030, a pressure group fronted by celebrity chefs and Dolce & Gabbana models. Absent hard evidence or coherent arguments for the centralization of decision-making on a matter as fundamental as what to have for dinner, it made its point by shamelessly putting interventionist politics into children’s mouths.

“I’m a 16-year-old boy,” read its introduction. “I feel like I’m being bombarded with junk food ads on my phone and on my computer. And I’m pretty sure this is getting worse.” Canadians who value free markets and individual liberties should be on the lookout for similar tactics from nanny-statists bent on drowning entire industries in red tape and consigning any notion of freedom of choice to the history books. It is incredibly paternalistic for the government to limit what advertisements adult consumers can see, as the ban would eliminate the targeted ads from all TV programming before nine p.m.

There is plenty Canada can do to fight obesity without resorting to blanket advertising bans, following the outdated playbook of trying to tax and ban things out of existence in a misguided effort to change people’s behaviour. The ban completely ignores the other half of the obesity equation, which is of course physical activity.

Obesity is a serious problem. It could even become the next pandemic. But as this junk food ad ban statement from Health Canada shows, powerful public health regulators are asleep at the wheel. They claim to be acting in Canadians’ best interest but they have nothing new to add to the policy debate.

Originally published here.

Junk food ad bans don’t work

Recognised as a risk factor for severe COVID-19 cases, obesity will likely top the European policy agenda for the years to come.

The recent launch of the MEPs for Obesity and Health System Resilience intergroup combined with several surveys and events signals an increased interest in finding the most effective solution. However, the traceable tendency to use the WHO’s recommendations as a shortcut when it comes to lifestyle issues does more harm than good.

In November 2016, the WHO published a report calling on the European Member States to introduce restrictions on marketing of foods high in saturated fat, salt and/or free sugars to children, covering all media, including digital, to curb childhood obesity. 

Same year the “What about our kids?” campaign, led by Romanian MEP Daciana Octavia Sârbu and organised by 10 European health organisations, called for a change of the Audio-Visual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) to impose a watershed on junk food advertising at a time when the directive was undergoing a review. As a result, the updated directive did include a clause on the co-regulation and the fostering of self-regulation through codes of conduct regarding HFSS.

The WHO’s implicit impact is traceable across the board which, however, doesn’t add up to its legitimacy. The said report claims that there is unequivocal evidence that junk food ads impact children’s behaviour, but it doesn’t back it up with facts to show a causal link between the marketing of these foods and children’s obesity. What the report does though is demonise the marketing industry globally for intentionally targeting children.

The link between advertising – in particular TV ads – and childhood obesity is weak and most of the current conclusions are based on studies from decades ago. One such example is a trial conducted in Quebec over 40 years ago. As part of a 1982 study, five- to eight-year-old children who were staying at a low-income summer camp in Quebec underwent a two-week exposure to televised food and beverage messages. It was found that children who viewed candy commercials picked significantly more candy over fruit as snacks. Although there appears to be an established non-directional link between childhood obesity and television, and a plausible link with food ads, it is not sufficient to justify bans.

Junk food ad bans policies fail to recognise that childrens’ choices are heavily dependent on the environment where they grow up and behaviours that are treated as acceptable.  Therefore, if the parents live unhealthy lives then their children are much more likely to live unhealthy lives as well. 

To tackle obesity, we need to fundamentally change the societal narrative of what is healthy and what is not, and futile attempts to solve the problem through bans are not an effective way forward.

Education – both at school and home through model behaviours – and parental responsibility play a key role in fighting obesity. WHO’s junk food ad bans are a knee-jerk solution to a problem that requires a fundamental societal change.

Originally published here.

Taxing sugary drinks unlikely to cut Newfoundland and Labrador obesity rates

Newfoundland is creeping toward a fiscal cliff.

The province’s debt load is more than $12 billion, which is approximately $23,000 per resident. COVID-19 has obviously worsened that troubling trend, with this year’s budget deficit expected to reach $826 million.

Just this week legislators proposed a handful of tax hikes to help cover the gap, ranging from increasing personal income tax rates for the wealthier brackets, increasing taxes on cigarettes, and the outright silly concept of a “Pepsi tax.”

In one year’s time, the province will implement a tax on sugary drinks at a rate of 20 cents per litre, generating an estimated almost $9 million per year in revenue.

Finance Minister Siobhan Coady justified the tax, beyond the need for revenue, stating that the tax will “position Newfoundland and Labrador as a leader in Canada and will help avoid future demands on the health-care system.”

When described like that, a Pepsi tax sounds harmonious. Who doesn’t want to curb obesity and generate revenue?

Unfortunately for supporters of the tax, the evidence isn’t really there.

In one year’s time, the province will implement a tax on sugary drinks at a rate of 20 cents per litre, generating an estimated nearly $9 million per year in revenue.

Unfortunately for supporters of the tax, the evidence isn’t really there. In one year’s time, the province will implement a tax on sugary drinks at a rate of 20 cents per litre, generating an estimated nearly $9 million per year in revenue.

Regressive taxes

Consumption taxes like this are often highly regressive, meaning that low-income residents bear most of the burden, and are ultimately ineffective in achieving their public health goals.

Looking to Mexico provides a good case study on the efficacy of soft drink taxes. With one of the highest obesity rates in the world, Mexico enacted a soft drink tax, increasing prices by nearly 13 per cent, with the goal of reducing caloric intake. A time-series analysis of the impact of the tax showed that it reduced consumption of these drinks by only 3.8 per cent, which represents less than seven calories per day. Estimates from Canada also show the same. When PEI’s Green Party proposed a soft drink tax of 20 per cent per litre it was only estimated to reduce caloric intake from soft drinks by two per cent, which is approximately 2.5 calories per day.

While these taxes do in fact reduce consumption to some degree, the reductions are so small that they have virtually no impact on obesity rates. To make matters worse, taxes like this aren’t just ineffective in combating obesity, they are heavily regressive. Looking again at the data from Mexico, the tax they implemented was largely paid for by those with a low socioeconomic status.

In fact, a majority of the revenue, upwards of 63 per cent, was generated from families at, or below, the poverty line. If we take the province’s estimation of $9 million a year in revenue, it is reasonable to assume that $5.67 million of that revenue will be coming from the pockets of low-income Newfoundlanders.

In other jurisdictions south of the border, like Cook County Illinois, no soda tax has avoided the uncomfortable reality of being incredibly regressive, which is partly why they eventually abandoned the tax altogether.

Doubtful benefits

Newfoundlanders need to ask themselves, is it worth implementing a heavily regressive tax on low-income families to move the needle on obesity by a few calories a day? I’d argue that the negatives of the tax far outweigh the benefits, and that’s before business impacts enter the equation. This also happens to be the same conclusion found in New Zealand.

The New Zealand Institute of Economic Research, in a report to the Ministry of Health, stated that “We have yet to see any clear evidence that imposing a sugar tax would meet a comprehensive cost-benefit test.”

While both budget shortfalls and obesity are serious problems, a “Pepsi tax” isn’t a serious solution.

Originally published here.

Obesity is America’s next pandemic

But public health authorities are asleep at the wheel

Obesity is out of control. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 42 percent of Americans have reported undesired weight gain. Among children, the situation is even more dire, with 15.4 percent of those aged 2 to 17 reportedly obese by the end of 2020, up from 13.7 percent the year before.

These aren’t just abstract statistics. The U.S. has a huge shortfall in life expectancy compared to other developed countries, translating into around 400,000 excess deaths per year. When it comes to the difference between the U.S. and other similarly wealthy countries, 55 percent of America’s public health problems can be traced back to obesity.

Obesity is the next pandemic.

And if the U.S. is very unlucky, politicians will combat the new pandemic the same way they did the old, with sweeping authoritarian bans. Newsflash: A strong government response to obesity hasn’t worked so far, and it won’t work today.

The United Kingdom offers a troubling glimpse into the kinds of policies overactive American politicians might soon try to push through. Britain is led by a nominally Conservative prime minister in Boris Johnson, who calls himself libertarian and won his office by pledging to roll back the “continuing creep of the nanny state” — but you wouldn’t know it from his actions.

In reality, in recent years, the British government has unleashed an avalanche of new taxes and regulations aimed at making Britain slimmer. All have comprehensively failed — the U.K.’s obesity rates are higher than ever, with excess body fat responsible for more deaths than smoking every year since 2014 and over a million hospital admission for obesity-related treatment in England in the year leading up to the pandemic.

The state’s rampant interventionism in this area hasn’t made a dent, and there is no reason to think the result would be any different on the other side of the pond. In the U.K., a regressive sugar tax on soft drinks remains in place (despite Boris Johnson previously promising to scrap it) achieving nothing besides making the weekly shopping trip more expensive for those who can least afford it. There’s also a bizarre £100 million ($142 million) taxpayer-funded scheme which will supposedly solve Britain’s obesity crisis by bribing people to exercise.

The headline act, though, is an appalling move to ban advertising for ‘junk food’ before 9 p.m. on television and at all times online. The premise, proposed with great insistence by bankrupt celebrity chefs and now seemingly adopted by the government, is that helpless children are being bombarded with ads for unhealthy food online and therefore that the malevolent, profit-hungry advertising industry is single-handedly responsible for the national obesity crisis.

Even if that were the case, an advertising ban would be a wildly inappropriate policy response. Government analysis of the policy — not a hit job from a skeptical think tank, but research from the very same people who are insisting that this ad ban is vital — found that it will remove an average of 1.7 calories from children’s diets per day.

For context, that is roughly the equivalent of 0.3 grams of candy, or a little under six peas. The British government is unwavering in its willingness to hamstring an entire industry, even as the world inches towards a period of post-pandemic economic recovery, in order to effect an impossibly miniscule change in children’s diets, not to mention the policy’s disastrous implications for free enterprise and individual liberty.

America: Learn from Britain’s mistakes. Obesity is the next pandemic, but public health authorities who claim to be acting in our best interests have been asleep at the wheel for far too long. All over the world, bureaucrats have been peddling tired 20th-century ideas to deal with 21st-century problems and the U.S. is next in line. Public health is too important to leave up to an outdated and out-of-touch medical-industrial complex which is more interested in its virtue-signaling echo chambers than helping the vulnerable or achieving any real results.

Originally published here.

Boris Johnson’s interventionist obesity strategy will fail. We need more choice, not less to slim down

Obesity is on the rise like never before. More than one in four people in the UK are now obese, one of the driving forces behind the mortality rate from Covid. In the year leading up to the pandemic, more than a million people were admitted to hospital for obesity-related treatment in England.

Record hospitalisations should be a wake-up call. Public health authorities on both an international and national level have failed to front up to the sheer scale of the challenge. Public Health England and the World Health Organisation are both indoctrinated with interventionist tunnel vision. For them, fighting obesity is banning things, taxing them out of existence, trying to manipulate consumers with intrusive campaigns and attempting to shame them into making “better decisions”. 

Those charged with addressing public health issues are reading from the same tired hymn sheet of failed policies. They are trotting out twentieth-century ideas to deal with twenty-first-century problems and their failures have tragic consequences on an enormous scale.

The headline act in this appalling show is the government’s plan to ban junk food ads. The policy looks set to go ahead after being included in the Queen’s Speech, despite extensive campaigns calling attention to the problems with an overly intrusive approach, for the advertising industry and everyone else.

My mother, a working-class, immigrant single parent, runs a small baking business out of her kitchen. Under the mad ad ban plan, my mum posting pictures of her cakes on Instagram will become illegal. And for what? The government’s own analysis of the policy found that it will remove an average of 1.7 calories from children’s diets per day – roughly half a Smartie.

When asked about the case of a bakery with an Instagram account, the prime minister’s spokesperson was unable to offer any reassurances. A government source quoted in the Sunday Times earlier this year said: “there will be caveats – this is not aimed at small companies advertising home-made cakes online. It is aimed at the food giants.” It remains unclear how a blanket ban on a certain type of advertising can be legally targeted at some companies and not others.

The solution to the obesity crisis lies in more freedom of choice, not less. Even those evil food giants are responding to public pressure, keen to be seen making an effort in this area. McDonald’s, for instance, is providing five million hours of football training across the UK. Even Britain’s pubs play an important role, contributing more than £40 million every year to grassroots sports.

When people voice their concern en masse about a particular issue, private actors go out of their way to make themselves useful and do something about it. Countless companies are voluntarily investing in healthy lifestyle schemes or cutting back their own contributions to obesity. Tesco, for example, has laid out an ambitious plan to boost the proportion of its food sales which is made up of healthy products to 65 per cent, setting an example for the rest of the industry as the market shifts.

Attempts to centralise responses to public health crises in government and concentrate responsibility in Whitehall fail consistently. Tesco’s radical new agenda was not motivated by public health bureaucrats, but instead by demands from its own shareholders and pressure from competitors including Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer. While Public Health England is cracking down on Marmite ads and Instagram pictures of cupcakes, the group of people arguably doing more than anyone else to make Britain healthier are private corporate investors.

Companies and consumer choice are our allies, not our enemies, in the fight against obesity. Rather than trying to hold back the tide, let’s harness the power of the market to tackle obesity.

Originally published here.

How to tackle obesity in the EU

With the end of the pandemic in sight, European policymakers are reflecting on what could have been done to prevent the damage.

Obesity, recognised by many scientists as a severe risk factor COVID-19, is likely to top the European policy agenda. However, while the temptation to slide into paternalism and impose advertising and marketing restrictions, or potentially, sin taxes is high, it is crucial to follow the evidence and protect the freedom to choose.

Earlier this month, Members of the European Parliament debated the possibility of introducing EU-wide rules to restrict junk food ads targeting children, while Germany pushed the self-regulating body of the ad industry to tighten its rules in regards to junk food advertising. 

Currently, there is no common EU definition on what makes for junk food but there have been multiple attempts to introduce Union-wide regulation of advertising. Article 9.4 of the updated 2018 Audiovisual Media Services Directive 2010/13/EU encourages the use of co-regulation and the fostering of self-regulation through codes of conduct regarding salty or sugary foods. However, Germany’s new regulation is wider in scope and aims to integrate all online channels that can have an impact on children’s nutrition choices. Germany’s shift towards more paternalism will be felt across the Union, and there is every reason to expect other member states to follow.

The link between advertising — in particular TV ads — and childhood obesity is unfounded. If it was possible to reduce obesity with the help of advertising bans, the success of such a strategy would be also visible in regards to other products such as alcohol. One study looked at bans on broadcast advertising in seventeen OECD countries for the years 1975-2000, concerning per capita alcohol consumption. It was found that a complete ban of broadcast advertising of all beverages does not affect consumption relative to countries that do not ban broadcast advertising.

Advertising or marketing bans stem from the assumption that the sole reason why obesity develops and persists is due to poor nutrition. But that is not the case: obesity is a matter of physical inactivity too. According to a report published by the European Commission and WHO in 2018, only 19% of 11-13-year olds in Germany were physically active. The situation is disastrous, and by opting for junk food ad bans, the German government will simply regulate in the wrong direction.

The effectiveness of these bans is highly questionable too. The UK recently dropped its plans to introduce such a ban because it was found that nutrition would have been decreased by slightly more than 1000 calories per year per child, but have a negative impact on businesses and consumers.

In order to tackle child obesity, we should encourage parental responsibility. Childrens’ choices are heavily dependent on the environment where they grow up and often model behaviours that are treated as acceptable. Parents who don’t lead healthy lifestyles will likely make it seem like exercising and eating vegetables is less rewarding than lying on a couch all day long and drinking soda. Furthermore, it is crucial that parents display healthy eating behaviour through activities such as family meals.

Instead of resorting to advertising and marketing bans, the EU and member states should also focus on educating children about junk food consumption and general health to ensure they can make informed and responsible consumer decisions.

Originally published here.

Obesity has made Covid deaths worse – but let’s not learn the wrong lessons

Whichever way you look at it, obesity is on the rise in Britain. By 2018, the proportion of British adults classified as obese had reached 28 per cent. Deaths attributed to obesity and excess body fat are climbing with each year that passes.

In fact, a recent study went so far as to claim that obesity is now responsible for more deaths than smoking. Smoking-related deaths have been falling in recent years and as of 2017, 23 per cent of deaths were linked to obesity, versus just 19 per cent for smoking.

As we know all too well by now, this seems to have contributed to the UK’s disproportionately high Covid-19 death toll. Obesity is one of the key coronavirus risk factors identified by the NHS early on in the pandemic, for good reason. Even setting aside other risk factors like diabetes and heart disease, from the data we have so far, obesityappears to have an additional effect of its own.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, public health nannies have leapt on these facts to push their extraordinarily damaging political agenda. From sugar taxes to food advertising restrictions, this Conservative government looks as though it has been well and truly conquered by those who want to see enforced plain packaging on crisps and chocolates and calorie counts on pints in pubs.

That might sound like hyperbole – but it isn’t. Enforced calorie counts are on the agenda, according to documents leaked to the Sun. And the idea of plain packaging for unhealthy foods, like we already have on cigarettes, is a real, straight-faced proposal from the Institute for Public Policy Research, a left-wing think tank, and has been publicly endorsed by the nannies-in-chief at Public Health England.

Sugar might well be the new tobacco – and these campaigners want to see us repeat all the harmful mistakes that were made when trying to regulate smoking out of existence.

Sadly, the fact that this proposal comes from the left doesn’t mean that we don’t have to worry about it becoming a reality under a Tory government. Just a few years ago, those same groups of fringe lobbyists were the only ones campaigning for advertising bans on junk food and taxes on soft drinks – but now, ad bans have been embraced as government policy and the sugar tax is already in force.

Neither of those policies work, and both have disastrous side-effects. The so-called “sin taxes” are ineffective – the evidence shows that when confronted with taxes on sugary drinks, people either pay the inflated prices, switch to other high-sugar, high-calorie options like fruit juices, or buy cheaper own-brand soft drinks to offset the price difference.

In other words, they don’t have an impact on the amount of calories people consume – as we can see from the fact that obesity rates continue to climb.

These regressive taxes also make the poor poorer. Analysis has consistently shown that making essential items like food and drinks more expensive hurts the poor more than anyone else.

Advertising restrictions have similar problems. The government’s ad ban policy – whichappears to have been axed at the eleventh hour, but given the lack of official confirmation, could rear its head again any second – is to restrict advertising of what it deems to be “unhealthy foods”. The immediate issue with that is that the government’s definition of unhealthy foods which cause obesity and must be restricted apparently includes honey, yoghurt, mustard and tinned fruit.

Even more damningly, the government’s own analysis of its policy, which it stuck by for many months despite universal industry outcry, concludes that it would remove an average of 1.7 calories from children’s diets per day. For context, that is the equivalent of roughly half a Smartie. And that’s to say nothing of the immense cost of hamstringing the advertising industry, precisely when we are relying on private sector growth to revive the post-Covid economic recovery.

Government interventions are always going to be short-sighted and ineffectual by their nature. We should not ignore obesity – but the way we confront it must allow people to retain control over their own lives. Rather than taxing or regulating obesity in the hope that it goes away, government policy should create an environment which can facilitate weight management.

For instance, recent research found that a diabetes drug can do wonders for weight loss. People who took semaglutide suddenly found the pounds dropping off, with many losing 15 per cent of their bodyweight. 

And health innovation goes far beyond the lab and the GP surgery. Studies have, shown, for instance, that the simple act of chewing gum can help people lose weight. “Chewing gum had a dual effect on appetite,” said researchers at the University of Liverpool and Glasgow Caledonian University. “It reduces both the subjective sensations associated with eating and the amount of food eaten during a snack… leading to an 8.2 per cent decrease in appetite for sweet and salty snacks.”

Instead of giving public health nannies free rein to govern our diets and shopping habits, the government should be investing in pioneering research like this to find free-market answers to obesity. If sugar really is the new tobacco, let’s not resort to excessive state meddling once again. Let’s instead harness the power of innovation and let our world-class scientific research institutions do the hard work for us.

Originally published here.

Only the individual can solve Britain’s obesity crisis

As Britain becomes the fat man of Europe, a blanket approach to large-scale policy-making will not solve Britain’s obesity crisis. Only the individual can do the work, argues Bill Wirtz.

Am I overeating? This question is, in essence, a modern one. Our ancestors would have stood in awe at the sheer availability of refrigerated and affordable meat in our supermarkets. Even items such as salt or sugar, once luxury items, are now abundantly available in everyone’s cupboards.

With this luxury, we also face the genuine problem of obesity. Eating habits are complicated: we are stressed and strapped for time, and work-related lunch breaks are either a quick sandwich over our desks or lush business buffets to get someone to sign a deal. All too often, we “treat” ourselves to something that exceeds our optimal calorie intake, especially during this pandemic, which has upset our regular schedules.

As I’ve been explaining on this site on a few occasions, the path of lifestyle regulations is neither practical nor modelled after what we want a free society to be. Banning “buy one get one free” pizza options or banning fast-food ads on public transport is infantilising. It presumes that consumers aren’t free to make their own choices, and far worse, assumes the government ought to be the judge of a healthy diet. However, despite hiring highly educated individuals, the government isn’t free from monumental failures on dietary recommendations. Those readers who remember being instructed on the old-school food pyramid will be able to attest to that.

Personal responsibility is complex, and it will not always provide a workable solution for each individual in a matter of months. Yet, the idea that consumers are left defenceless against big sugary food machinery is dystopian and has very little to do with the truth. From personal experience, I am blessed with being naturally tall and a forgiving metabolism. Still, I revert to easy steps to keeping myself in shape without following a painful or time-consuming routine.

Exercise is one of the keys to a healthier life without depriving myself of the joys of the occasional treat. In fact, exercise is all too often a forgotten key to the solution. In October 2018, Public Health England indicated that more than 37 per cent of 10 and 11-year-olds in London are overweight or obese. It is often mistakenly argued that this is caused by high energy intake, but the obesity rates are dependent on physical activity, which according to Public Health England, has decreased by 24 per cent since the 1960s. Daily calorie intake in the UK is also decreasing each decade.

On top of making sure I go on regular (fast) walks, I also keep myself informed on down-to-earth solutions for regulating my appetite. This 2011 study found that chewing gum reduces the desire for snacks by 10%, which makes a significant dent in my afternoon cravings for those foods that are unhealthy. The benefit is also that this applies just as well to sugar-free gum. On top of the widely known added benefit of preventing tooth decay between regular dental hygiene, it has also been shown that chewing gum leads to increased cognitive performance and productivity. Given that I, as much as many others, currently spend their days on Zoom calls, chained to our desks, I find that sugar-free gum has been one of many practical solutions that helps me snack less and be more focused.

Many people regulate their diets with new apps, calorie counters, or making radical shifts in their diets. Be it getting rid of meat or only eating meat, the array of digital solutions and dietary diversity shows that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. To many governments, the response to obesity has too often been targeting consumption itself. Instead of using the scientific knowledge we have to our advantage and leading us to individual responses, regulators prefer to find a culprit, then advocating abstinence.

Yes, we lust for high sugar and fat, but that does not make us children that need to be penalised. In our community, in our families, we can be a positive nudge that gets friends or siblings to try new ways of regulating their behaviour. For me, it’s been regular breaks, walks in the fresh air with a podcast, sugar-free gum, and a green smoothie for my veggie intake. For you, it might be a Paleo diet.

Let’s celebrate our responsibility instead of a blanket approach to large-scale policy-making.

Originally published here.

Sugar is the new tobacco. Here’s what we should do about it!

Whichever way you look at it, Britain is facing an obesity crisis. A study into long-term public health in England and Scotland published earlier this month reached the startling conclusion that obesity is causing more deaths than smoking, with nearly two thirds of British adults now overweight.

This past year has brought rising obesity levels into sharp focus because of the effect that being overweight seems to have on the fatality of Covid-19. According to research from the World Obesity Federation, nine out of ten deaths from coronavirus occurred in countries with high obesity levels, which might go some way towards explaining why the UK has seen a disproportionately high death toll.

This issue has not passed the Government by. Led by a man who was elected on a platform of halting ‘the continuing creep of the nanny state’, this Conservative Government has unveiled a raft of policies designed to ease the pressure on Britain’s weighing scales, including the sugar tax, a ‘junk food’ advertising ban and even a fund – with a £100m price tag – which is apparently designed to bribe people into losing weight.

The problems with these policies are too numerous to count. Sin taxes hit the poor harder than anyone else, making the weekly shopping trip more expensive for families who are already struggling. The junk food ad ban is set to remove around 1.7 calories, or half a Smartie’s worth of energy intake, from children’s diets per day – according to the Government’s analysis of its own policy. And the state-funded version of Slimming World sounds like something that comes out of a pop-up book of policies. Yes, and ho!

It is unclear why Boris Johnson, who was able to lose weight after his brush with Covid without any of these new Government-sponsored initiatives in place, is now so firmly of the belief that the Government must crack down on unhealthy eating if we are to have any hope of slowing down the increase in obesity rates – especially when the private sector is doing most of the hard work voluntarily.

Tesco, for instance, recently bowed to external pressure by committing itself to increasing its sales of healthy foods to 65% of total sales by 2025. Time and time again, when there is an issue people care about, companies go out of their way to do their bit – even at the expense of their bottom line. We saw the same thing happen when the world woke up to the reality of climate change, with businesses eagerly signing up to costly net-zero plans.

Positive moves like this from incumbent giants are complemented by the wealth of innovation taking place around obesity. Semaglutide, a diabetes drug, was recently found to be extraordinarily effective in helping people lose weight. Even something as innocuous as sugar-free chewing gum might just represent part of the solution. Datasuggests that the mere act of idle chewing suppresses the appetite, resulting in a 10% reduction in the consumption of sweet and salty snacks.

Crucially, these remarkable steps towards a less obese Britain can take place at no cost to the taxpayer, free of the grip of Whitehall bureaucracy and at an astonishing pace. We have just lived through a year in which the Government pumped billions into a near-useless ‘test and trace’ system and repeatedly failed to clarify whether or not drinking coffee on a park bench is illegal. If there is one incontrovertible lesson we can surely take from that, it is that we should not leave such important tasks to the state.

Sugar is the new tobacco, so we need to be smart in how we tackle it. Sporadic, ill-thought-out Government interventions like banning Marmite adverts are not the answer. Private-sector innovation, not centralised policy, is Britain’s best hope of slimming down.

Originally published here

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