Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Canada should declare war! (on fat?)

Canada's Senate produces something other than a new spending scandal!

Introduce sugar tax, ban food and drink ads for kids: Senate obesity report

I went straight to the horse's manure pile for this one, and suffered the displeasure of reading what our venerable Senators (at least the ones not currently under indictment) had to say about Canada's obesity "epidemic". I'll spare you the gory details, so here's the nuts and bolts:

Canadians are fat. Not as fat as Americans or Mexicans, but still fat. If Canadian adults and children remain this fat, they will die and/or bankrupt the health care system. We eat too many shitty calories and not enough healthy calories. We stare at too many screens. Kids don't play outside because we think pedophiles are everywhere, and schools don't want to get sued over playground accidents. Did I mention that too many Canadians are fat?

The Senate's innovative solutions to the crisis?

-ban advertising of crap to children
-update Canada's Food Guide
-tax soft drinks
-get doctors to learn more about nutrition and prescribe more exercise
-spend more on ParticipACTION (more Hal and Joanne!)

A couple of things stood out about this giant waste of Senatorial time. First, exploring the causes, scope, and science around the problem is not the time to consult with industry, which the Senate did in preparing the report. Industry can and should be consulted with regards to implementation of a public health strategy, but not before. There is a clear conflict of interest to anything industry has to say on the issue, and industry is not bound to adhere to the truth in their claims.

Second, and more importantly, the recommendations are the same half-baked crap that's been tossed around forever. Ban advertising of junk food to children. What does that entail? TV ads? Do kids watch TV the way they used to? Banning cartoon mascots, as was done in the past with Joe Camel? Would that survive a court challenge, considering we're talking about food, not a demonstrably carcinogenic toxin?

Taxation of soft drinks and processed foods...wait, aren't they already taxed? In Ontario, you pay HST on pop and candy, which is 13% at present. How high does a tax have to be--20%, 50%, 200%? Our only comparators are cigarettes and alcohol. Smoking rates are very sensitive to cigarette taxes. Alcohol consumption isn't sensitive to higher taxes at all (Ontario is about to prove this by instituting a taxation price-floor on wine). Do people stop buying pop the weeks it isn't on sale? If they do, would that ultimately affect obesity rates? Why did the report give any consideration to the beverage industry's opinion in suggesting this step?

It is long past time we stopped thinking about obesity in terms of a treatable disease OR a modifiable behavior like smoking. By the Senate committee's own words, there are diverse, society-wide contributors the problem: poverty; genetics and epigenetics; poor access to healthy food; urban planning; labor-saving technology; sedentary occupations; and so on. Yet all we can come up with for solutions are hackneyed behavioral economics (sugar tax), treating food like a medication (better nutrition labelling), or regulation of media that's no longer consumed as it once was (advertising bans)?

It so infuriates me, I think I'm going to get something from the McDonald's drive-thru.

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