Treat Obesity like Smoking with Graphic Warning Labels: OMA


The Ontario Medical Association (OMA) says junk food should be treated the same way as tobacco, slapped with higher taxes and packaged with graphic warning labels as part of an effort to battle childhood obesity.

Ontario doctors say three-quarters of overweight children remain that way until they become adults, with health effects ranging from diabetes to certain types of cancer and heart disease. “If we don’t start taking immediate action now, our health-care system will soon be overwhelmed by the demands of a completely preventable complication associated with obesity,” said OMA President Dr. Doug Weir.

In a policy paper in this month’s issue of the Ontario Medical Review, the OMA said the success of anti-tobacco campaigns shows that there is now more tolerance for what may be perceived as manipulative or coercive measures.

“Unlike food, tobacco products are unique in that they have no safe level of use, but lessons can still be learned from the very significant reduction in smoking rates and the methodologies employed to achieve these,” the paper said.

In addition to higher taxes and graphic labels, the OMA is proposing that the marketing of unhealthy food to children be restricted and that retail displays of such snacks include information about their health impact.

The OMA also recommend:

  • Increasing taxes on junk food and decreasing taxes on healthy foods.
  • Restricting marketing of fatty and sugary foods to children.
  • Placing graphic warning labels on pop and other high-calorie foods with little to no nutritional value.
  • Adding retail displays for high-sugar, high-fat foods that prominently advise consumers of the health risks.
  • Restricting the availability of sugary, low-nutritional value foods in sports and other recreational facilities frequented by young people.

Almost one in three Canadian children aged five to 17 — 31.5 per cent — is overweight or obese, compared to 14 to 18 per cent in the early 1980s, Statistics Canada reported last month.

Food & Consumer Products of Canada, an industry association, says that the obesity problem won’t be solved this way. “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,” FCPC vice-president Phyllis Tanaka said in a statement, which noted that she is a registered dietitian.

“People can still eat junk food. We’re not doing anything to stop them from eating it,” Weir said. “But we want them to be aware of what they’re doing.”


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