Government urged to push healthy eating by taxing unhealthy foods

Public health expert warns deferral of measure will mean continuing obesity

“There is no magic bullet that will resolve the crisis of epidemic levels of obesity in children and adults in a short time. This will be a long haul. We need to be innovative and flexible in our policy responses and prepared to advance by trial and error if necessary.”

“There is no magic bullet that will resolve the crisis of epidemic levels of obesity in children and adults in a short time. This will be a long haul. We need to be innovative and flexible in our policy responses and prepared to advance by trial and error if necessary.”

Fri, Oct 11, 2013, 06:50

The Government should incentivise healthier eating options by taxing unhealthy foods in order to help combat growing obesity levels among Irish children, a leading public health specialist has urged.

Prof Ivan Perry, professor of public health at University College Cork, said it was clear that media campaigns to increase knowledge and awareness of health issues were largely ineffective unless supported by public policy measures to encourage healthier options.

The current proposal for a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks is one such move, said Prof Perry, who instanced the success of the plastic bag levy as a clear example of how government policy can lead to a change in people’s behaviour.

“To change the culture in relation to diet and obesity in childhood, we need to move on several fronts at the same time. We need to highlight the issues of childhood obesity, provide clear dietary guidelines for parents and incentivise healthier choices through taxation.

“There is no magic bullet that will resolve the crisis of epidemic levels of obesity in children and adults in a short time. This will be a long haul. We need to be innovative and flexible in our policy responses and prepared to advance by trial and error if necessary.

“The default option of the food industry - defer taxation and other measures until we are absolutely certain they will work - is a recipe for inertia and continuing high levels of obesity, diabetes and chronic disease,” he said.

Prof Perry was speaking at a conference at UCC entitled Health and Diet: Public Policy and Personal Choice across the Lifecourse, to mark five years of the Health Research Board Centre for Health and Diet Research at UCC.

It is estimated that poor diet, lack of exercise, excess body weight and related risk factors account for over 40 per cent of the estimated burden of disease ( suffering, disability and premature death) in Ireland based on the recently published WHO Global Burden of Disease study.

Prof Perry said that in Ireland the estimated prevalence of overweight in adults is 37 per cent, with a further 24 per cent meeting current body mass index (BMI) criteria for obesity and approximately 25 per cent of children meeting current international criteria for overweight and obesity.

The HRB Centre for Health & Diet Research at UCC estimated that the cost of overweight and obesity in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland for 2009 were €1.13 billion and €510 million, accounting for 2.7 per cent and 2.8 per cent of total health expenditure, respectively.