Legislated to health?

August 30, 2012 by Jamie Hanlon

Obesity rates in North America are a growing concern for legislators. Expanded waistlines mean rising health-care costs for maladies such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. One University of Alberta researcher says that if people do not take measures to get healthy, they may find that governments will throw their weight into administrative measures designed to help us trim the fat.

Nola Ries of the Faculty of Law's Health Law and Group has recently published several articles exploring potential policy measures that could be used to promote healthier behaviour. From the possibility of zoning restrictions on new fast- locations, mandatory menu labels or placing levies on items such as chips and pop, to offering for leading a more healthy and active lifestyle, she says governments at all levels are looking to adopt measures that will help combat both rising and declining . But she cautions that finding a solution to such a widespread, complex problem will require a multi-layered approach.

"Since eating and physical activity behaviour are complex and influenced by many factors, a single policy measure on its own is not going to be the magic bullet," said Ries. "Measures at multiple levels—directed at the , at individuals, at those who educate and those who restrict—must work together to be effective."

Junk-food tax: A lighter wallet equals a lighter you?

Ries notes that several countries have already adopted tax measures against and beverages, similar to "sin taxes" placed on alcohol and tobacco. Although Canada has imposed its GST on various sugary and starchy snacks (no tax is charged on basic groceries such as meats, ), Ries points to other countries such as France and Romania, where the tax rate is much higher. She says taxing products such as sugar-sweetened beverages would likely not only reduce consumption (and curb some weight gain) if the tax is high enough, but also provide a revenue stream to combat the problem on other levels.

"Price increases through taxation do help discourage consumption of 'sin' products, especially for younger and lower-income consumers," said Ries. "Such taxes would provide a source of government revenue that could be directed to other programs to promote healthier lifestyles."

Warning: This menu label may make you eat healthier

Ries notes that prevailing thought says putting nutrition-value information where consumers can see it will enable them to make better food choices. She says many locales in the United States have already implemented mandatory menu labelling. Even though some studies say menu labels do not have a significant impact on consumer behaviour, nutrition details might help some people make more informed eating choices.

"Providing information is less coercive than taxation and outright bans, so governments should provide information along with any other more restrictive measure," said Ries. "If a more coercive policy is being implemented, it's important for citizens to understand the rationale for it."

Coaxing our way to good health

Ries notes that some programs designed to create more active citizens, such as the child fitness tax credit, do not seem to have the desired effect. Yet, she says that offering incentives for living healthier and exercising more may have a greater impact on getting people active. She points to similar programs used for weight loss and smoking cessation, which had a positive effect on behaviour change, at least in the short term. More work needs to be done to establish an enticement plan with longer-term effects, one that may incorporate points accumulated for healthy types of behaviour that could be redeemed for health- and fitness-related products and services. She says investing money into more direct incentive programs may be more effective than messages that simply give general advice about healthy lifestyles.

"Instead of spending more money on educational initiatives to tell people what they already know—like eat your greens and get some exercise—I suggest it's better to focus on targeted programs that help people make and sustain behaviour change," said Ries. "Financial incentive programs are one option; the question there is how best to target such programs and to design them to support long-term healthy behaviour."

Explore further: Taxing sugar-sweetened beverages could yield sweet results

Related Stories

Taxing sugar-sweetened beverages could yield sweet results

May 13, 2011
(PhysOrg.com) -- Taxing sugar-sweetened beverages a penny-per-ounce could reduce consumption and generate significant revenue, finds a study by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University and the Bridging ...

20 percent 'fat tax' needed to improve population health: experts

May 15, 2012
Taxes on unhealthy food and drinks would need to be at least 20% to have a significant effect on diet-related conditions such as obesity and heart disease, say experts in the British Medical Journal today. Ideally, this should ...

Policies for a healthier European diet: Are they effective?

October 28, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- A Europe-wide project led by the University of Reading to assess the effect of policies encouraging healthier eating has found that much more work still needs to be done for these to be successful.

There's something healthy in the state of Denmark

April 30, 2012
The people of Denmark are not only concerned about what they eat, but they are willing to pay more tax to eat healthier and make more informed eating choices. The results of this study come at a time when healthy eating and ...

Recommended for you

Women who sexually abuse children are just as harmful to their victims as male abusers

August 21, 2017
"That she might seduce a helpless child into sexplay is unthinkable, and even if she did so, what harm can be done without a penis?"

To reduce postoperative pain, consider sleep—and caffeine

August 18, 2017
Sleep is essential for good mental and physical health, and chronic insufficient sleep increases the risk for several chronic health problems.

Despite benefits, half of parents against later school start times

August 18, 2017
Leading pediatrics and sleep associations agree: Teens shouldn't start school so early.

Doctors exploring how to prescribe income security

August 18, 2017
Physicians at St. Michael's Hospital are studying how full-time income support workers hired by health-care clinics can help vulnerable patients or those living in poverty improve their finances and their health.

Schoolchildren who use e-cigarettes are more likely to try tobacco

August 17, 2017
Vaping - or the use of e-cigarettes - is widely accepted as a safer option for people who are already smoking.

Federal snack program does not yield expected impacts, researchers find

August 17, 2017
A well-intentioned government regulation designed to offer healthier options in school vending machines has failed to instill better snacking habits in a sample of schools in Appalachian Virginia, according to a study by ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.