COLUMN: Adler – Doctors should drop the sugar tax idea

- October 26th, 2012

War on obesity has fat chance of success

by Charles Adler

Ontario doctors have launched an attack this week. And no, it’s not about health-care reform. Not about wait lists or rationing services. Not about death boards or meddling bureaucracy.

This week, the Ontario Medical Association declared a “war on obesity.” And who are the enemies in this war? Well, the people of Ontario, and their freedom to decide what they eat.

How are they fighting this war? Well, they have a new ad campaign, featuring graphic warnings to be placed on food items that doctors don’t like. Just as cigarette packages now feature disturbing images and warning logos to deter people from making bad choices, Ontario doctors want warnings on high-calorie, low-nutritional value foods in an attempt to fight obesity.

And they’re not stopping there. They are lobbying the government for higher taxes on “bad” foods and lower taxes on “good” food. They’re calling for restricted sales of junk food and sugary drinks.

Doctors are waging this campaign because they are experts and want people to live healthier lives. Doesn’t sound so bad, right?

The problem is their self-righteous scheme takes away individual choice and freedom. What we eat is the most basic of freedoms. And this campaign aims right at the heart of this basic right.

People have choices and must make decisions. Sometimes these decisions are tough. Sometimes people make bad choices. Choices that are not optimal, for themselves or the public good. But they must live with the consequences of their actions. Taking away this freedom to choose makes us a little more complacent, a little more docile and a little less free.

I’m sure the doctors don’t see it this way. They look at the costs. The OMA estimates that extra health-care costs attributed to obesity cost taxpayers up to $2.5 billion a year in Ontario.

That’s the basic problem with having government-owned health care. Since we all pay into the system, we all pay for the bad choices of others. That’s the problem with socialism. The government takes care of our health and our wellness, they own a piece of us and can make these kinds of authoritarian decisions. Decisions about what we can and cannot do with our own bodies.

On a practical level, this initiative falls flat. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation points out that there were no peer-review papers and no real-world examples where food taxes have changed behaviour. In fact, they point to a D.C. think-tank which found that a 20-cent tax on a 75-cent soft drink resulted in the Body Mass Index of an obese person decline from 40 to 39.98.

Denmark tried a “junk food tax” in 2001. The result? Disastrous economic consequences.

Food manufacturers fled, jobs were shipped across the border, and no positive health outcomes were measured. It’s just not worth it. Yes, health is important. Families should try to teach their children about nutrition and good health. Social campaigns and ads encouraging people to exercise and eat vegetables are great. Athletes and Olympians are championed, and continue to be our society’s greatest role models.

If the OMA wants to take out private ads, that’s fine. When they get into meddling with laws and taxes, it’s a different story.

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Categories: Politics

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2 comments

  1. Stephen Smith says:

    That’s the basic problem with having government-owned health care. Since we all pay into the system, we all pay for the bad choices of others.

    REALLY! Then explain car insurance, its private yet I pay for other bad drivers, sounds like socalism to me.

    Bad news for you Charles private insurance works off of tables that are weighted with risk and that risk is spread everywhere. Doesn’t matter is you eat right, jog everyday run a marathon every month, you maybe in the best shape of anyone anywhere and you will still be weighted due to family history whether valid or not. Say you have a overweight parent, sorry your weighted because you my be at risk for that.

  2. Bill Elder says:

    Charles, I think it is the success of a systemic persecution of smokers that has emboldened big brother and all his toady quidnuncs to now attack fat people. This latest control freak meme is even more socially dangerous than the attack on tobacco users (still a legally sold substance which provides windfall revenues for government).

    Once the media and pressure groups had succeeded in demonizing smokers they set government on them – criminalizing them with regulations and bans. It was not enough for these anal-retentives to simply ban smoking in work places, they went into the bars and restaurants and now are in your car and your home and family life – children have been taken away from smoking parents – how bloody sick is that? Criminal charges for smoking in your car ferkrissake! I’m not a habitual smoker Charles, but I do buy the odd Cuban or Dominican cigar once or twice a year and I’m forced to smoke it in my back yard or a park or I could lose my family if a complaint was made by a malicious busybody – even now you would not believe the looks and comments I endure when minding my business and smoking my $28 (mostly tax) Monte Cristo on a park bench. Anti smoking crusade is showing itself for what it always was – systemic bigotry.

    I see the same process starting with big people – because of political correctness they are not honest enough to say they are about to focus societal bigotry against fat people, so they call it a war on “obesity” – as if obesity is some inanimate non-human construct. We’ve allowed the control freaks in the quidnunc class to go way too far Charles and now they are going to incrementally go after all people who do not conform to their utopian template of the ubermench. Taxing and labeling food, designating some foods as “junk” and degrading “obesity (i.e. fat people) is just the start – as it was with tobacco – but soon we will see large people legally stigmatized, or lose their kids etc. etc. all in this crusade to disguise social bigotry as a health crusade – who’s next control freaks? Skinny folks? People with bad breath or stinky feet? Folks with bad teeth? Ugly people?

    Who is the next unacceptable group who foul the gene pool of the ubermenchen?

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