I don't want James Reilly telling me what to eat, but we need a fat tax
Dunnes had no special offers on fruit or vegetables either – but 17 different discounts on processed foods and sweets for Halloween. Fresh fruit and vegetables feature seven times in Centra’s current discount booklet – but that’s compared to more than 30 special offers on high-calorie snacks and processed foods.
Critics of fat taxes invariably point out that they have a disproportionate effect on poorer households, because people on lower incomes spend a proportionally greater chunk of their household budget on food. But if that’s true, then it’s also the case that they will get a proportionally greater benefit from subsidies on healthier foods.
The other criticism made against the fat tax is that it’s yet more interference from the government in our lives. I don’t like the idea of James Reilly telling me what to eat any more than you do. But unfortunately, there’s good evidence that we need a bit of nannying.
Years of gentle government chiding about the dangers of cigarettes saw little improvement in our health: one year after the smoking ban was introduced, a study carried out in Cork found that hospital admissions for acute coronary syndrome had fallen by 12 per cent. How many – if any – lives have been saved by the ban is disputed, but at least one study by the Tobacco Control Journal claims the figure is more than 1,700.
The other thing that’s appealing about a fat tax is that it calls the problem what it is.
We’re careful about the language we use to discuss our weight, because we don’t want to stigmatise anyone, or because we’re concerned about teenagers and their body image. And perhaps we’re right to be: research published this week found that one third of 2,000 teenagers surveyed are unhappy with their body image.
But maybe we’ve become too coy. We use words such as “obesity” because they sound like they’re describing a medical condition, when “fat” sounds more like a lifestyle choice. By mincing our words like this, we’re detracting from the fact that it is our lifestyle that’s making us fat.
A study conducted in the US over four decades found that Americans aren’t eating more at mealtimes than their parents or grandparents, or even expending less energy – it’s what they’re eating (and drinking) between meals that’s doing the damage.
This won’t change overnight. But you’ve got to start somewhere, and a fat tax is as good a place as any.
Malala’s message for the Taliban – and the West
ONE OF the most affecting moments in Adam Ellick’s 2009 documentary on Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot last week by the Taliban, happens during the moments after she returns with her family to their home in the Swat valley, from which they had been displaced during the summer.