Don’t eat, don’t exercise

As a society we’ve lost complete perspective on obesity. News Limited newspapers today are reporting the government is financing public health activists to research the value of a fat tax. According to the article:

A government backed study is investigating whether to back a fat tax on McDonalds, KFC and other fast foods in a bid to tackle Australia’s obesity epidemic. Despite criticism that increasing junk food prices will hit the poor, the Government’s preventative health agency – ANPHA – is funding the most comprehensive study ever into the potential tax change – to the tune of $463,000.

The public is being asked to give feedback on paying more for hamburgers and other fatty foods with a “citizens jury” to debate next weekend whether shifting tax scales is the most efficient – and equitable – means of addressing the nation’s weight problem.

Of greatest concern is how activists now want to use government to fundamentally reorganise society:

“We need to look beyond blaming individuals and towards the structural things in our society. Are we okay with junk food being cheaper and easier to buy than good quality food?” says Dr Comans, from the Centre for Applied Health Economics.

As research from my colleague, Julie Novak, showed the impact of a fat tax would most heavily be felt by the poor:

Nanny State taxes encourage consumers to switch to other harmful products, and create illicit ‘shadow markets’ for the taxed products. The hypothetical imposition of a ‘fat tax’ levy on top of the existing GST would cost taxpayers between $67 and $268 million per annum, with low-income taxpayers again disproportionately affected.

Of course the research doesn’t focus on the impact the GST has already had on consumption as a defacto 10 per cent fat tax – fresh food is out, processed food is in.

But the absurdity of how disconnected government policy is in promoting healthy behaviour was highlighted by the Gold Coast Council. According to reports they actually want to stop people easily exercising:

Personal trainers and fitness groups could be booted off the beach under council plans to ban them from the sand.

If it goes ahead, the ban would extend to all bathing reserves and even include fitness training in the ocean.

The council is looking to amend a local law so any business supplying personal or group fitness training can be prohibited from beaches, giving officers the power to slug offenders with a $375 fine.

It also wants to ban any beach hire equipment business unless it is being carried out by a surf life saving club or with a permit.

Here’s an easier solution – allow the public to educate themselves about healthy eating and let them exercise it off. Why is promoting a healthy culture of individual choice and responsibility never the focus of public health research?

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