Ontario’s Doctors Call for Urgent Action to Combat Obesity Epidemic
TORONTO, Oct. 23, 2012 /CNW/ – Today, Ontario’s doctors introduced aggressive new measures to help prevent thousands of premature deaths associated with obesity — including increasing taxes on junk food — a once-rare condition that has become a public health epidemic in this province. Almost one in three Canadian children – 31.5 percent — is now overweight or obese, up from 14 to 18 percent in the early 1980s. Three-quarters of overweight kids will remain so in adulthood, with health effects ranging from diabetes to certain types of cancer to heart disease – costing Ontario taxpayers $2.2 to $2.5 billion annually. Researchers in the U.S. recently predicted that obesity could cut short a person’s life by two to five years – meaning that today’s children may be the first in the history of North America to live shorter lives than their parents.
Ontario’s doctors pointed to numerous anti-tobacco campaigns that have helped reduce the number of smokers, and called for the imposition of similar measures on obesity-causing foods. Anti-tobacco campaigns have helped to reduce smoking rates in Ontario from close to 50 percent in the 1960s to less than 20 percent today. Tax increases were the most important reason for this success, followed by public information (including disturbing images of diseased lungs and other graphic depictions of the negative effects of smoking), removal of retail tobacco displays, and advertising bans.
To that end, Ontario should set an aggressive course with a comprehensive, multi-pronged suite of policies to reverse the course of childhood obesity, including:
- Increasing taxes on junk food and decreasing taxes on healthy foods;
- Restricting marketing of fatty and sugary foods to children;
- Placement of graphic warning labels on pop and other high calorie foods with little to no nutritional value;
- Retail displays of high-sugar, high-fat foods to have information prominently placed advising consumer of the health risks; and
- Restricting the availability of sugary, low-nutritional value foods in sports and other recreational facilities that are frequented by young people.
The recommendations put forward today build on the actions Ontario’s doctors have already called for including:
- Legislation that would require calorie contents to be listed adjacent to the items on menus and menu boards at chain restaurants and school cafeterias;
- An education campaign to help inform Ontarians about the impact of caloric intake on weight and obesity; and
- Making physical activity/education mandatory throughout high school.
“We are raising a generation of children that will suffer from devastating and wholly preventable diseases, overwhelm the health system, and die prematurely. We need immediate and strong legal action to address what Ontario’s doctors are now seeing in the diabetes clinics and the stroke centers, and on the operating table: a full-scale public health crisis,” said Dr. Doug Weir President Ontario Medical Association adding, “The time for gentle admonitions has come and gone. We need to fight this problem with proven tools like tax incentives and graphic warnings. There is an enormous body of evidence that these measures work.”
- New Statistic Canada figures, based on World Health Organisation criteria, show that the true number of overweight or obese children in Canada is higher than originally believed – from 26 to 31.5 percent of the population of 5-to 17-year olds
- Obesity costs Ontario $2.2 to $2.5 billion per year.
- Tax incentives helped to reduce the number of smokers from almost 50 percent of the Canadian population in the 1960s to less than 20 percent today
- 75 percent of obese children become obese adults
- Anti-tobacco campaigns were initially met with hostility in the 1960s, but gained public acceptance and legislative power over half a century; we must move much more quickly on the anti-obesity front.