Saturday 13 November 2010

Some stupid news and some rather good news

From the pages of the Daily Mail comes a reheated dollop of public health nonsense:

Fat tax 'is the best way to cut obesity': Treat junk food like cigarettes, argues the OECD

The OECD?! Who rattled their cage? There is, it seems, no one at any level of global government who is capable of keeping their nose out.

A ‘fat tax’ on unhealthy foods, restrictions on junk food advertising and better labelling are the most cost-effective ways to cut obesity, a study suggests.

Gee, that sounds familiar. Sounds like someone's been to a public health conference and now wants to repay their host for the free pen and folder.

It says the measures would give England’s 52 million population an extra 270,000 years of good health between them.

This is what Numberwatch calls the 'Trojan Number'...

The allusion is, of course, to the mythical stratagem whereby the Greeks infiltrated the city of Troy inside a giant wooden horse. The Trojan Number is thus one of several stratagems by which authors get their articles or propaganda into the media.

The most common type of Trojan Number is the one generated by taking one small figure from a dubious study and extrapolating it over a vast population. But in this case, even when you do that, the net benefit is feeble. 275,000 years spread across 52 million is only 1.895 days of extra "good health" per person. In effect, they want us to pay more tax on food for the rest of our lives so we can have the equivalent of an extra weekend of "good health" (whatever that means). Since most of us will tolerate a weekend of poor health for the sake of one good Friday night, this does not sound like a great exchange.

Even if we assume (as we surely must) that the benefit would be only to the quarter of the population who are (tenuously described as) 'obese', that is still only an extra week of good health per fatty. Could the OECD not find something better to do with its time than campaign for this piddling and almost certainly fictitious improvement in public health?

Government measures to change diet are supported in the study by experts at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the World Health Organisation.

None of whom are elected, and all of whom should keep their opinions to themselves.

A key proposal suggests treating foods high in fat, salt and sugar in the same way as tobacco, where advertising is restricted and price has been pushed up to discourage use.

You don't need me to remind you that public health spokesmen in days gone by swore on a stack of bibles that this kind of slippery-slope did not exist because cigarettes were a "unique hazard". So let's move on...

Researchers found that a combined approach of taxing unhealthy foods, subsidising healthy options, restricting food advertising and improving labelling was cheaper than simply treating those who develop heart disease or cancer as a result of an unhealthy diet.

The study in question is behind a pay-wall at The Lancet and I cannot vouch for whether the Daily Mail is accurately reporting its contents. But health reporting rarely strays far from the official press release and it certainly sounds like the kind of thing the British Medical Journal's ugly little brother would publish.

And they can both whistle dixie because, as The Guardian reports today...

Using the pricing of food or alcohol to change consumption has been ruled out.

Hurrah! And furthermore...

The Department of Health is putting the fast food companies McDonald's and KFC and processed food and drink manufacturers such as PepsiCo, Kellogg's, Unilever, Mars and Diageo at the heart of writing government policy on obesity, alcohol and diet-related disease, the Guardian has learned.

In your face, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development!

This Guardian 'exclusive' will doubtless make its readers choke on their breakfast muesli, and I'm not keen on having industry dictating policy myself, but in this instance I really can't see what McDonalds are going to suggest that will limit freedom or shaft consumers. And it gets better...

The alcohol responsibility deal network is chaired by the head of the lobby group the Wine and Spirit Trade Association.

Get in! This sounds almost too good to be true and, needless to say, the fake charities and temperance nuts are none too happy...

A member of the alcohol responsibility deal network, [Sir Ian] Gilmore said he had decided to co-operate, but he doubted whether there could be "a meaningful convergence between the interests of industry and public health since the priority of the drinks industry was to make money for shareholders while public health demanded a cut in consumption".

You're in no position to demand anything, my friend, and it's that kind of talk that has worn out the public's patience with you and your ilk.

Jeanette Longfield, head of the food campaign group Sustain, said: "This is the equivalent of putting the tobacco industry in charge of smoke-free spaces."

Alas, that won't be happening. Still, two out of three ain't bad.


Anonymous said...

Any type of food, when overate, will make you gain weight.

It is just as easy to be fat on bread, pasta and potatoes as it is with the so called "junk food"

Calories must equal energy used.

When calories are higher, weight gain occurs, when energy used is higher weight loss occurs. It is simple math.

And of course being thin does not automatically mean that you are eating healthy nor does being over weight mean that you are not.

Richard 23 said...

here comes prohibition in the United States. Washington State Liquor Control Board has arbitrarily banned alcoholic energy drinks using the weak and pretext that college kids are abusing these legal alternatives to huffing paint or some other substitution which is bound to be worse than the safe and legal products being banned.

it seemed like around the time that the berlin wall fell and eastern governments begab ramping down the authoritarianism the pendulum continued to swing. In the west, in very tough economic times, local and federal governments keep taking on arbitrary fees and making more and more restrictive laws.

The economically predictable result is that things will only get "worse" and more laws will be needed as the US with its high per capita incarceration rate climbs even higher with this and the other restrictions that are coming.

If people don't have safe and legal products to alter their consciousness in times of stress, the phase becomes reinforced and habitual behavior is reinforced with less safe alternatives.

The west, sadly, along with much of the rest of the world is moving in the wrong direction with regards to freedom. If people aren't allowed to make decisions that are legal, they will surely make them illegally with a force multiplier.

Governments are seeding their own moral panics and future justification. Same as always. Do it goes. Time to find an island.

Curmudgeon said...

If there was a "fat tax" I'm sure there would be endless hours of fun in devising ways to get round the legislation. Much of the opprobrium directed to certain foods has much more to do with their image of being guzzled by the poor than with their actual nutritional content.

Would the tax apply to bread? Or lettuce? Or cheese? Or lean beef? So how would you get it to apply to Big Macs, then?

Tony Palazzolo said...

Those extra two days could also be workdays. That could be billions in lost production :)

Gary K said...

"Those extra two days could also be workdays."

Two extra days at the END of an eighty year life are going to be WORKDAYS??????

How silly and foolish!!

Typical nanny nonsense.