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home : health : health March 21, 2018

2/27/2018 2:18:00 PM
Curbing obesity with public policy
By Andrew Loscutoff

Obesity has shown no signs of slowing, and people are suffering from many different repercussions of a growing waistline. Countries like Mexico and China, which now are exposed to American eats, are seeing a rise in obesity rates at a rapid rate. What is going to stop this? Should the government step in to protect its people? Clearly people cannot protect themselves in a sea of snacks, highly delicious fast foods, and sugary beverages.

Everyone has an idea of what they ought to eat, however it's the application that's difficult. One cookie turns into two, a small soda is now 24 oz., the supersize is only $1 extra for twice the food. This is where some intervention needs to take place.

Chile uses an aggressive black and white labeling system based on how much sugar and fats are in the foods. The more sugar, fats, and additives the more warning labels. This approach has two implications. First, the labels tell consumers what is often hidden on the back of the label and misunderstood. The bigger implication is that it incentivises food companies to re-formulate their products in order to get a higher ranking. This has already been very effective. It's simple, and easy to understand.

In some countries, notably Mexico, there are high tax rates on sugary beverages. At the rate of 10 percent this is a high penalty to get a large soft drink when other non-soda beverages have no such tax. This has resulted in a decline of six percent on soda sales. While still new, it is unknown yet whether this will be slowing Mexico's growing obesity and diabetes epidemic. Certain U.S. cities have followed suit. Portland, Oregon, votes in May whether or not to tax sugary beverages.

Another way awareness has been brought to consumers is fast-food menu labeling. It is now transparent how many calories are in that McDouble with cheese. This puts nutritional information front and center at the register when someone is ordering the food. This has been an incentive for food companies to adopt healthier menus. Whether or not this has slowed fast-food consumption is arguable.

Marketing is being scrutinized as often what's marketed toward children are junk foods high in sugar and fat. Chile, a country who is suffering dire childhood obesity, removed all cartoon characters from foods and cut television advertising to children - an aggressive step which may prove effective. In a country like the USA, politics may stand in the way as so many of the food companies carry significant weight in the pocketbooks of our elected representatives.

With obesity not slowing anytime soon, there are public-health measures being taken to curb it. Whether or not they will be effective is yet to be seen. Is this the role of the government, our education system, or parenting? Whoever we deem most responsible, there certainly needs to be a reform. Our society cannot bear the costs. Healthcare, workforce, military, etc. all suffer from so many of the effects of obesity.

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