News / Health

UN investigator: Unhealthy Food Taxes Vital to Fight Obesity

FILE - U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier de Schutter (l)
FILE - U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier de Schutter (l)
Unhealthy diets pose a greater risk to global health than the increasingly regulated sale of tobacco and governments should move fast to tax harmful food products, a United Nations investigator said on Monday.

In a statement issued on the opening of the annual summit of the World Health Organization (WHO), Belgian professor Olivierde Schutter called for efforts to launch negotiations on a global pact to tackle the obesity epidemic.

"Unhealthy diets are now a greater threat to global health than tobacco. Just as the world came together to regulate therisks of tobacco, a bold framework convention on adequate diets must now be agreed," he said.

De Schutter, who has held his post of special rapporteur on the right to food since 2008 and earlier headed the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights, reports to the U.N.Human Rights Council in Geneva.

In 2005, a U.N. convention on tobacco control aimed at reducing deaths and health problems caused by the product went into force after long negotiations under the umbrella of the WHO. In a report to the rights council in 2012, de Schutter said a similar accord on food should include taxing unhealthy products, regulating food high in saturated fats, salt and sugar, and "cracking down on junk food advertising."

That report also called for an overhaul on the system of farm subsidies "that make certain ingredients cheaper than others", and for support for local production "so that consumers have access to healthy, fresh and nutritious foods.

"In his Monday statement, issued through the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, de Schutter said any attempts to promote better diets and combat obesity "will only work if the food systems underpinning them are put right.

"Governments have been focusing on increasing calories availability, but they have often been indifferent to what kind of calories are on offer, at what price, to whom they are made available, and how they are marketed. "Such measures, he declared, "are essential to ensure that people are protected from aggressive misinformation campaigns."

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by: Try Again
May 19, 2014 3:47 PM
I could have sworn that with 7 billion people, obesity is relatively low on the list compared to malnutrition, poor diet, or hypertension. It can't be that Europe has recently translated data which dictates their population's obesity rates are on the rise that pushed this Schutter to speak up.

Regardless, the path he suggests is foolish at best. Proper education on the effects of food consumption and reducing the stigma of receiving help for obesity issues is all which is required. Imposing a tax (especially as one so broad as to include all food) would:
1) Not significantly alter peoples' eating habits, thus not solving obesity.
2) Harm the food and potentially entertainment industries as people shift a larger portion of their income to purchasing the same food.
3) Effectively "throw away" money through giving it to politicians without giving an explicit purpose to getting this increase of income.

by: Titanium Dragon from: Philomath, Oregon
May 19, 2014 3:35 PM
Obesity is a problem.

Unfortunately, Olivier de Schutter is a big part of it.

You see, Olivier is not a sciencist. He is a man with no understanding of science at all. Just look at this:

"regulating food high in saturated fats, salt and sugar"

What a great idea! Except, wait. Does science say these things are bad for you?

Whoops! Nope, science actually found that NONE OF THESE THINGS MATTER AT ALL.

Salt is not linked to disease; they've found that cutting salt intake actually often leads to negative health outcomes.

Saturated fats are not linked to disease; they've found that fats don't matter.

If you are diabetic, you need to watch what you eat, which means that some sugary foods are problematic for you (but not all of them; it depends on the type of carbohydrate present in the food). If you aren't, then sugar isn't bad for you.

So we must conclude, from a scientific standpoint, that this guy is a crazy person with no understanding of reality and should be immediately fired. He is operating off of false information and promoting bad ideas.

Here's reality. Here's what science DOES know. Three things matter:

Caloric intake.

Caloric consumption.

Essential nutrients.

For most people in the developed world, essential nutrients aren't a problem; the only people who really have to worry about them are vegetarians and vegans. If you don't eat some bizzare diet, chances are good that essential nutrients aren't something you have to worry about.

That leaves caloric intake and caloric consumption. If you want to have a stable weight, these two things need to be the same. If you eat more calories than you burn, then you gain weight; if you eat fewer calories than you burn, you lose weight.

What those calories are is completely irrelevant. Indeed, if it wasn't the case, then it would violate the first law of thermodynamics.

Is junk food bad for you? Not really. Big Macs are actually reasonably nutritious; they provide roughly a quarter of your daily calories (550), a quarter of your daily iron, a quarter of your daily calcium, and 100% of the essential amino acids you need, as well as some other nutrients. That's... actually very reasonable. A Big Mac isn't empty calories at all!

So why do people condemn McDonalds? Well, because they're stupid, really. You can be perfectly healthy eating any food.

The problem is that most people don't get enough exercise. And it doesn't matter WHAT food you eat - be it big macs or spaghetti or apples or peanut butter - if you eat more calories than you burn, you're going to end up fat.

This guy doesn't even understand such basic science.

The fat needs to be sucked out of this guy's head, and someone with an actual grounding in science needs to step in and replace him.

by: Jimmy Weber from: Iowa
May 19, 2014 3:30 PM
Dumb idea. The problem tracks back to elementary schools who are moving away from recesses and PE which was a very natural way to run and play and get lots of exercise. Drop some of the computer instruction and practice and return to more activity for the kids.

by: Jerry L McClure from: USA
May 19, 2014 3:13 PM
Just another way to justify raising taxes and create more regulations (money) for the governments to govern what you eat. Enough of this!

May 19, 2014 3:13 PM
A sad day indeed for the world. Rather than make unhealthy food illegal, they'll just take your money instead and let you get fat. haha. although making it illegal would be an even worse decision. Either way, govt regulation in this capacity is disgusting.

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