FROM THE EDITOR: May 2006
Junk Food – The New Tobacco?
By Stacy Bradshaw
They’re not the first ones to make the comparison, but the Heart and
Stroke Foundation is perhaps the most powerful organization to date to
warn Canadians that “fat is the new tobacco.” According to the recent Heart and Stroke Foundation’s annual report,
the prevalence of obesity today is similar to what we faced with
tobacco use more than 30 years ago – when half of Canadians smoked. It
therefore requires similar action.
Junk Food – The New Tobacco?
They’re not the first ones to make the comparison, but the Heart and Stroke Foundation is perhaps the most powerful organization to date to warn Canadians that “fat is the new tobacco.”
According to the recent Heart and Stroke Foundation’s annual report, the prevalence of obesity today is similar to what we faced with tobacco use more than 30 years ago – when half of Canadians smoked. It therefore requires similar action.
Public policies implemented in the 1990s to curb tobacco consumption in Canada did just that. Smoking rates have reportedly dropped by half in the past 30 years.
So as snacks and soda quickly gain on cigarettes for the title of “Public Health Enemy No.1,” the prospect of a “Twinkie Tax” being used to discourage unhealthy eating habits is becoming less of a comical analogy and more of a potential reality.
The big question is: who is responsible for tackling obesity? When the Heart and Stoke Foundation asked Canadians, 58 per cent said it is the individual’s responsibility to make informed choices. Of the rest, 18 per cent said government leadership is needed and only two per cent thought it was up to the food industry.
Good news, right? Not exactly. If we’ve learned anything from the compliance to impose tobacco-related tax legislation, it’s that when these situations come down to a matter of “individual responsibility” vs. “general welfare,” government control always seems to win.
The World Health Organization has taken the reigns of the already heavy-handed anti-tobacco lobby. The WHO calls tobacco a “global epidemic” and is gearing up for its 2006 World No Tobacco Day on May 31. This internationalization of the anti-tobacco lobby has given impetus to a new global political attitude, one where words like “health” have become intrinsic, international values.
Armed with the declaration of “healthy values,” the potential for lobbyists’ interference in the lives of Canadians is seemingly limitless. If the WHO uses its anti-tobacco campaign as a model for a “junk food” intervention, arguing that eating is not a legitimate target of regulation may prove too little for the power of the lobby.
So what’s option B? Adopt an “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” attitude. On page 14 of this issue, you can read about how Ryan Vending has secured its place in B.C. schools by subsidizing healthy vending products while still offering traditional vends at premium pricing.
This sort-of “self-regulation” allowed B.C. educators to see vending as a flexible retail channel that, if subjected to the same unyielding guidelines as other provinces, could be left out of the market completely.
The point is, sitting idly by while the government phases out snack foods and soft drinks alongside cigarettes, is simply not an option for Canadian vending operators. Being proactive might mean the difference between becoming a leader in the health movement and becoming the proverbial farmer with no field to sow.o