VIDEO: Ontario Doctors Call for Junk Food Tax, Warning Labels, to Fight Obesity
With obesity costing Ontario up to $2.5 billion a year and predictions that the condition could cut your life short by 2-5 years, doctors in the province are calling for aggressive action to combat the problem, including making junk food cost more and putting warning labels on products that aren't good for you.
Tuesday, the Ontario Medical Association called for for higher taxes on junk food, tax breaks for health food, graphic warning labels on high-calorie products with little nutritional value, as well as restrictions on marketing junk food to kids, and limiting the availability of junk food at recreational facilities.
That's in addition to other measures the association has already called for including calorie counts on menus and mandatory gym class throughout high school.
If some of the measures announced sound familiar, they should.
OMA President Dr. Doug Weir says problems with obesity are almost as serious as the impact of smoking, so to curb obesity, they're making recommendations that worked to reduce the number of Ontarians lighting up.
"We're trying to learn from our experience in our tobacco campaign," says Weir. "We need to take an aggressive stand to deal with the epidemic of obesity in the population."
He says increasing the cost of cigarettes was the primary reason that smoking rates dropped and that's why he's recommending increasing the cost of junk food, while also decreasing the cost of food that's good for you.
During an event Tuesday morning, Weir stood beside three possible warning labels that could show up on high-calorie foods with little nutritional value.
A box of grape juice showed a picture of a foot with an open wound a problem that diabetics can develop, while a pizza box showed a liver suffering from fatty liver disease.
Some in the food industry were not happy to hear the recommendations.
In a statement, Phyllis Tanaka, Vice President, Scientific & Regulatory Affairs - Food-Nutrition with the Food and Consumer Products of Canada says comparing smoking to eating is not a good starting point.
"Let's be very clear - food is not tobacco. Tobacco has no place in a healthy, balanced lifestyle. A tax on food and beverages is nothing but a tax grab that will hurt lower and middle income Ontarians the most."
One of her colleagues says the obesity problem has many angles and he'd rather see the focus put on getting consumers to better understand the nutritional information on packages.
"Eating is not easy, it is complicated," says Derek Nighbor Senior VP Public and Regulatory Affairs with the Food and Consumer Products of Canada. "That's why...making simple value judgements considering certain foods good and certain foods bad is an irresponsible way of moving forward.
With 31.5 percent of children now obese (up 14-18 percent from the early 80s) Weir thinks it's ideas like this that are going to work.
"I don't think we're going to (curb obesity) by pussy-footing around with things that do not get people's attention," says Weir. "We're not going to tell people what to do, we're not going to stop people from eating these foods, but they need to make intelligent choices."
The recommendations will now get passed on to government, and the OMA hopes to see some of their suggestions put into law.