Today the UK media reported that England’s Chief Medical Officer suggested that taxing sugar, similar to the tax on alcohol and cigarettes would assist in reducing the endemic obesity problem in the UK.
I have been in the UK for about 18 months and yes I do believe that action needs to be taken on the ever increasing problem of obesity here. I am not going to discuss the problems and issues for the country of overweight people, those problems and the cost to the country are well documented and discussed and make for very worrying statistics. What I do want to comment on however is how I observe this country dealing with this problem. Almost every week there is a program on TV about obese people and how they are being dealt with. What amazes me is how much money is being spent on assisting people that have grown up in this society, ended up obese and now need bigger houses, wider doorways, oversized ambulances and special bariatric units to help them just exist. Now don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of empathy for people who find themselves in this state, most of whom got there through lack of education or support. But instead of band-aiding the problem….locking the gate after the horse has bolted why are more resources not put into changing societies attitudes that have now become norms?
Why is it that we fill our children up on so called treats, crisps, pies, lollies, ice cream? at what stage to these things turn into ‘having something naughty’ and then evolve into the bad foods that we are ridiculed about if we are perceived as not having the strength to resist…… I mean is at a certain age? at a certain weight? I could never work it out. My kids are 16 now, are they still in the treat stage or are they at the naughty food stage…there is no information out there about this.
Why is it not child abuse if we overfeed our kids sugar, why is it seen as treats….this I can’t understand. Until this basic mindset changes I think society will still be concentrating more on the end result, diabetes, heart disease etc rather than basic lifestyle changes from a young age that will most likely right these diseases after a couple of generations.
Back to taxing sugar, my thoughts are that it won’t work, many people, including myself don’t like being so personally regulated by the government. Why not regulate the food manufacturers more? what I hate is having to read labels of food, I would rather be provided with food that I know is healthy, safe and not filled with sugar, salt, palm oil, numbers and colours. Is that not abuse of our basic rights that we now have to resort to reading labels with a magnifying glass to ensure our families health?
Not long ago in New Zealand, our opposition party proposed dropping tax on fruit and vegetables. A good idea to make them cheaper for families that cannot afford them , but really would that work? Having worked in the retail industry I know that the cost of not only changing the tax system but keeping parallel tax systems would add costs that would far outweigh the so called savings. Would the people who really needed these fresh foods really buy them? in my experience no, the reason being that convenience food is not only cheaper and easier but people are now addicted to the additives in processed food. A viscous circle and with now generations in a family that really does not know how to cook, sometimes even the most basic of fresh foods, government regulation of taxing food, no matter how good meaning it is, is barely going to make a dent in the problems of poverty and societies deteriorating health. We have to start again at the beginning, a hard, long and daunting task that is going to mean governments are going to need to look past tax, past quick fixes and will need to stay on track long after those that are in power today are replaced and forgotten.