It is inevitable that there will be regular news about obesity. It is a global, growing, complex problem.
Last week the Lancet published new data from Imperial College London on childhood obesity and the World Health Organisation published its latest action plan to tackle the crisis.
The FT summarised the report’s findings via a wonderful graphic. It shows how, over the past fifty years, the growth of childhood obesity around the world has gone hand in hand with rising levels of affluence.
The Guardian, prompted by the same reports, highlights the ‘shocking figures’ and the awful consequences of childhood obesity. The Guardian article quotes Dr Fiona Bull of the WHO as saying: “What is available, the cost, the pricing and the marketing of individual foods influences our choices every day.”
The Guardian piece includes a graphic on advertising spend in 2016 showing how the UK government’s (very good) Change4Life campaign is simply dwarfed by the corporate spend on promoting chocolate, crisps, biscuits and fizzy drinks.
The article also cites Professor Ezzati, lead author of the author of the childhood obesity study from Imperial, who said “Most high income countries have been reluctant to use taxes and industry regulations to change eating and drinking behaviours to tackle child obesity,” and, also “Most importantly, very few policies and programmes attempt to make healthy foods such as whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables affordable to poor families.”
We need to tackle and overcome the reluctance; and put those policies and programmes in place. But how?
Bad Habits, Hard Choices addresses this question directly. It sets out a detailed proposition for introducing ‘Smart VAT’ to decrease the price of healthy foods and increase the price of unhealthy foods. Smart VAT would specifically support lower-income groups, and could be introduced at no net-cost to governments.
Bad Habits, Hard Choices sets out a four-stage process for implementing Smart VAT. Each step relies on policies or processes that have already been used by UK government. No new mechanisms are required, only the political will.
Changing the price of food will not on its own solve the obesity crisis. But with the costs of inaction rising every day, the propositions in Bad Habits could help us to move quickly onto an altogether healthier trajectory.