Obesity,Diets#Eating Disorders#Bullying#Fat Acceptance#Please Share
British Columbia is in the midst of a-n epidemic of obesity. Approxi mately 60 per cent of adults are overweight or obese as are 29 per cent of our youth. This is a threat to the physical health of our population and to the fiscal health of our province.
Health care accounts for 40 per cent of government expenditures and at current growth rates it will consume 70 per cent of revenues by 2040. This will leave little left for education, social services and infrastructure.
Obesity related illness costs the province over $450 million per year and reducing obesity will help reign in health care spending.
O-besityleadsto7.7percentofcan cers, a significant proportion of heart d-isease and most cases of type 2 diabe tes. Obese adults die up to seven years earlier than normal weight peers. The dollar cost and the lives lost is a call to action.
A major contributor to the obesity e-pidemic is the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages (SSB). This term includes all drinks with added caloric sweeteners such as soft drinks, fruit punches, vitamin waters and energy drinks. SSB are popular and possess unique properties which promote weight gain.
Unlike "junk food," "junk drinks" t-end not to make one feel full. A per son drinking SSB will eat as much food during the day as they would have had t-hey drank water -and in some stud ies, even more. SSB are strongly linked with obesity in all ages.
S-SB are heavily marketed, inexpen s-ive and easily available in increas ingly large portions. Soft drink sales amount to 66 litres per year for each Canadian. Regular consumers ingest considerably more as this figure is an average.
According to Statistics Canada, 50 per cent of 15-year-old males reported having a soft drink in the previous 24 hours, and the average serving size was 700 ml. Even if consumed twice weekly, this would amount to over 72 litres per year. In recognition of the role SSB play in obesity, the Center for D-iseaseControl, theInstituteofMedi c-ine, the American Academy of Pediat rics, the Canadian Paediatric Society, the Public Health Agency of Canada and the BC Healthy Living Alliance have all recommended that steps be taken to reduce SSB consumption.
Last summer, a group of health experts and other stakeholders in B.C. convened to write an Obesity Reduct-ion Strategy, which was then for warded to the Ministry of Health.
A major recommendation of the report was that steps be taken to reduce the consumption of SSB through public education and the implementation of a levy or tax, on the sales of SSB.
The province should embrace these recommendations as they reflect the lessons learned from the hard fought b-attle against tobacco. Tobacco con trol succeeded through a combination o-f public policy interventions includ ing education, advertising and sales r-estrictions, smoking cessation pro grams and taxation.
The U.S. National Academy of Scie -nces concluded that "[the] sin gle most direct and reliable method for reducing consumption [was] to increase the price of tobacco ... ."
R-esearch, and common sense, sug gests that a tax on SSB will reduce consumption and therefore reduce obesity rates. Another benefit would be the message sent to consumers. The beverage industry spends millions of dollars telling us that "pop adds life." Little is spent informing consumers that excessive consumption can do just the opposite.
Most importantly, a tax on SSB would enhance personal responsibility as those who consume soft drinks would then contribute proportionately towards the additional health care costs they incur.
Recent work indicates that up to 20 per cent of adult obesity is the result of excessive soft drink consumption. T-his corresponds to a bill of $90 mil lion per year for B.C.
A-levy on sugar sweetened bever ages would help the province recoup this expense.
The revenue could be used for health p-romotion activities such as subsidiz ing the price of fruit and vegetables or reducing the cost of physical activity for vulnerable children and youth.
In their reaction to the HST, British Columbians have clearly indicated that they need to be consulted before any significant changes in taxation. Recent polling has indicated that 70 p-er cent of British Columbians sup port a tax on SSB if the proceeds are u-sed for health promotion. In addi tion, the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services h-as recommended that the govern ment examine fiscal tools to reduce SSB consumption.
Leadership candidates for both part-ies should carefully review the Obe sity Reduction Strategy and the case for a health promotion levy on sugar sweetened beverages. We encourage all candidates to clearly articulate their position on this recommendation.
Dr. Tom Warshawski is chair of the Childhood Obesity Foundation in Victoria.