Tax processed food to subsidise healthier options and tackle obesity, says think tankBMJ 2015; 350 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h2569 (Published 12 May 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h2569
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The recommendation of The Overseas Development Institute that taxation be imposed on processed, energy-dense foods and used to offset the cost of healthier alternatives (1,2) will hopefully carry at least some influence in the future of global dietary consumption. We know that even a little extra consumed over a long time can make a huge difference; just a single additional sugary drink per day having the potential to lead to a whopping 50kg weight gain over a decade (3).
However, we must be careful to also look at the wider picture when assessing the likely impact of such individual interventions, or in the case of Mexico, when we come to assess their actual impact in the near future. The global obesity epidemic is so ostensibly multifactorial, with affordability just a single element, that a single intervention of this sort is akin to closing the sweet shop while the doughnut factory rubs its sticky mitts in glee.
Our society is flooded with ‘obesogenic’ factors, which are conspiring to make and keep us overweight. This commendable and forward-thinking exploration of cost and the implicit recommendation for taxation is certainly a move in the right direction, but must be considered in conjunction with a far-reaching and multipronged attack on the wide-ranging, inter-related causes of obesity. These vary globally and include food industry advertisement (3,4,5), changes in opportunity for energy expenditure (3,6), socioeconomic, family, psychosocial, perinatal and genetic factors (3,6) and, crucially, education surrounding food types and choices, energy requirement, portion sizes, meal preparation and the impact of childhood overweight on adult health (3).
The 'war on obesity' has many parallels to the modern day 'war on terror', with slowly exploding waistlines subtly mimicking bombs. Both wars will be lengthy, difficult, and expensive. Both will require political ingenuity and intelligence. Both will cost many lives.
1. Kmietowicz Z. Tax processed food to subsidise healthier options and tackle obesity, says think tank. BMJ 2015;350:h2569
2. Wiggins S, Keats S, Han E, et al. The rising cost of a healthy diet: changing relative prices of foods in high-income and emerging economies. Overseas Development Institute. May 2015. www.odi.org/rising-cost-healthy-diet.
3. Ebbeling CB, Pawlak DB and Ludwig DS. Childhood obesity: public-health crisis, common sense cure. Lancet. 2002; 360: 473-82.
4. Borzekowski DL and Robinson TN. The 30-second effect: an experiment revealing the impact of television commercials on food preferences of preschoolers. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2001; 101: 42-6.
5. Dixon HG, Scully ML, Wakefield MA, White VM and Crawford DA. The effects of television advertisements for junk food versus nutritious food on children's food attitudes and preferences. Soc Sci Med. 2007; 65: 1311-23.
6. Gordon-Larsen G, McMurray RG, Popkin BM. Determinants of adolescent physical activity and inactivity patterns. Pediatrics, 105 (2000), p. e83
7. Montague CT, Farooqi IS, Whitehead JP, et al. Congenital leptin deficiency is associated with severe early-onset obesity in humans. Nature. 1997; 387: 903-8.
Competing interests: No competing interests
The opinion expressed by the members of the think tank on international development and humanitarian issues at the Overseas Development Institute, that processed food should be heavily taxed to tackle global problem of obesity epidemic, addrsses one side of the coin. In fact, imposing a value added tax (VAT) of any amount will ultimately loosen the pocket of consumer/customer only and will hardly affect industries' business and profit.
The modern epidemic of lifestyle induced diseases, such as obesity, type-2-diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disorders or cancer, are being unravelled as the diseases of common soil where our food habits are playing an important role. A simple realignment in our dietary habits can make huge changes in reducing their prevalence. It reminds me of Daniel and his friends in the Holy Bible where they determined to eat only vegetables while getting trained at the court. At last, they looked healthier and better nourished than their other colleagues who opted for the food and wine provided by the King at the Royal table.1 A simple meal plan of “eating vegetables before a main meal” is emerging as a more effective dietary management strategy in achieving glycaemic control2 along with other detrimental parameters affecting diabetic complications3 in type-2-diabetes mellitus patients.
Unfortunately however, the cost of vegetables, fresh green vegetables in particular, is soaring the world over and the public is finding it hard to meet the costs for such healthy foods. The policy makers around the world should rather advise their respective Governments to encourage farmers to grow more and more vegetables. This change will not only help farmers become financially sound and people get easy and affordable healthy food but our planet earth will also become greener. The profit of industries will remain unaffected by this change and people will live a healthful life.
1 The book of Daniel. The Bible; 1:1-16
2 Imai S and Kajiyama S. What to eat first and how to eat to reduce amplitude of glycemic excursions. J Life Sci Res 2014; 12:3-7
3 Tiwari AK Revisiting vegetables to combat modern epidemic of imbalanced glucose homeostasis. Pharmacogn Mag 2014; 10 (suppl):S207-S213.
Competing interests: No competing interests