First they came for smokers, then they came for drinkers, now they are coming for obese – or more correctly “the potentially obese”.The topic of the day – when not discussing the likely whereabouts of a certain Libyan leader – is the most recent “expert” report telling us that unless we tax unhealthy foods, half the UK population “will be obese by 2030“.
This headline grabbing report appears in the Lancet that is running a four-part series looking at the ”global obesity pandemic” (yes that is right – pandemic) and how it believes it should be tackled.The answer it comes up with is somewhat more complicated (and frightening) than the simple ”fat tax” on unhealthy foods reported in the papers today. But surprise, surprise, the “fat tax” is the main “weapon” against the “pandemic” that the “experts” themselves have chosen to highlight – so lets stick with that.
The first question I find myself asking, is what the hell is an unhealthy food? Surely the odd bag of chips, the occasional Big Mac or sneaky bar of Cadbury’s fruit and nut is not intrinsically bad for you? I accept of course that consuming any of these items to excess is likely to lead to me adding on the pounds - but even my 14 year old niece knows that. It is an unhealthy diet that leads to obesity (combined with lack of exercise in some cases) not so-called “unhealthy” food.
If we listen to the experts everything is unhealthy for us – except possibly lettuce. If we start down this route of taxing unhealthy food – lets say anything with “high” sugar content or “high” fat content – how long before the so-called experts decide that its not sugar or fat that’s the killer its carbs – so let’s tax food with “high carb content” ….. then it will be “high salt” foods ….and so it will continue until everything is taxed (except possibly lettuce). We never get an apology from these experts about their nutrition advice from the past that was just plaing wrong and led us down this particular route… oh no not their fault guv. And now it isn’t our fault either apparently -this is no longer about individual repsonsibility – it’s the Government’s responsibility what we eat – at least according to these “experts” . And if I had a tenner for every time the term “pandemic” has been used in the past years I’d be rich… and how many times have the pandemics actually materialised?
The next question I ask myself is .. why is the automatic solution to every health problem that the experts identify these days -either a ban or another tax? Why not tackle Fair Trade – or EU protectionism – keeping the cost of fruit and veg artificially high – not the answer? Why aren’t nutrition classes the answer? Why is not making people responsible for their own health care costs the answer ? Why does it always come down to a ban or a tax, the fault of slack Government or evil food manufacturers.
And perhaps the most annoying aspect of this – is the idea from the health experts that we should tax “unhealthy food” now - to prevent the possibility of mass obesity sometime in the future. Whatever they say about the UK we just don’t have the same level of obesity as they do in the USA – and having just returned from vacation there I can tell you its not just about WHAT they eat – its HOW MUCH they eat. Portion sizes in the USA are ENORMOUS.. Their appetisers were often twice what I would eat for a main course … even child portions often saw me leaving food on the plate.
So before we get too carried away with trying to map USA trends onto UK figures to get a few shocking headlines – and a knee jerk “fat tax” solution…. let’s be more sensible about this. Let’s pursue the route of education and information. Let’s look at how trade barriers and shocking restrictive practices artificially inflate prices of raw foods. Let’s consider how health and safety madness has caused many small retailers to go out of business.
And perhaps most importantly, let’s not allow scaremongering headlines from faceless “health experts” make those struggling with weight problems feel as disgusting and self-hating as smokers have been made to feel about themselves. Let’s not criminalise an even wider section of the population by forcing them into purchasing illicit, unlicensed chocolate, soft drinks etc smuggled in overseas containing god knows what because its half the price of over-taxed legitimate products in the UK. Please let us learn the lessons from what we did to the tobacco industry – and beware of the unintended consequences of well-intentioned actions.