Ontario doctors launch assault on obesity, urging tobacco-like warnings on bad food

The Canadian Press
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Ontario doctors have launched an assault on obesity, saying society should aggressively fight the epidemic using the tools that have made major inroads in the battle against smoking.

The campaign calls for graphic warnings — like the ones tobacco companies must print on cigarette packages — on high-calorie, low-nutritional value foods such as sugar-sweetened soft drinks, french fries and even fruit juices.

It also calls for higher taxes on sugary or fatty foods, lower taxes on healthy foods and restrictions on sales of junk foods in sports venues and other recreational facilities used by children and teenagers.

The types of changes needed to fight obesity won’t come into effect overnight, Dr. Doug Weir, president of the Ontario Medical Association (OMA), said at a recent news conference announcing the campaign.

But Weir said society needs to start addressing obesity or it will face epidemic levels of weight-induced illnesses, including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

“If we don’t do something about this now, we’re going to have a tidal wave of the consequences of those conditions,” said Weir, a psychiatrist who said he deals with issues related to childhood obesity on a regular basis in his practice.

He estimated the extra health-care costs attributable to obesity are in the range of $2.2 billion to $2.5 billion a year in Ontario alone.

The OMA noted a recent re-analysis of Canadian data showed that 31.5 per cent of children and teens — one in three — are overweight or obese. That’s up from 14 to 18 per cent in the 1980s.

The OMA isn’t in a position to bring about any of the changes it is advocating — it can only help to focus government and public attention on the problem and its recommendations for addressing it.

Weir said the organization will raise the issue with the Ontario government.

For the campaign, it devised images of food products — a serving of french fries from a fast-food restaurant, a pizza box, a juice pack, a carton of chocolate milk — branded with the types of eye-catching images and warnings that have changed the face of cigarette packaging.

The juice box bore a graphic picture of a deep ulcer on the sole of a foot, a limb-threatening problem people with diabetes can face. The milk carton was printed with a warning declaring that a half litre of chocolate milk (the larger of the individual sizes sold) contains 360 calories and 12.5 teaspoons of sugar.

The association’s inclusion of juice raised some eyebrows, reflecting the fact that many people think juice is a healthy option for thirsty kids.

But Weir noted juice has as many — or more — calories as sugar-sweetened sodas, saying it has been transformed from a drink people consumed in small quantities in the morning to something children drink all day long.

Weight loss expert Dr. Yoni Freedhoff agreed, pointing out that expert groups advise that juice consumption should be limited to half a cup per day for young children and a cup a day for everyone else.

Grape juice, he noted, contains 10 teaspoons of sugar per glass.

“Whether the sugar was made by a plant or whether the sugar was made by a machine, it doesn’t change the fact it’s still sugar,” said Freedhoff, who is the medical director of Ottawa’s Bariatric Medical Institute.

“And beverages with 10 teaspoons of sugar shouldn’t be beverages that we consume on a regular basis.”

An association representing food and beverage manufacturers hit back swiftly, denouncing the linking of some foods with tobacco.

“Let’s be very clear — food is not tobacco,” Phyllis Tanaka, vice-president for scientific and regulatory affairs, food and nutrition for Food and Consumer Products of Canada, said in a statement.

“Tobacco has no place in a healthy, balanced lifestyle. A tax on food and beverages is nothing but a tax grab that will hurt lower- and middle-income Ontarians the most.”

The organization noted the government of Denmark introduced a tax on saturated fat last year, but is now moving to scrap it. The tax was blamed for the loss of jobs in the country’s food manufacturing sector.

The industry group said consumer education and more choice will lead to better results in the fight against obesity.

But Freedhoff said governments need to act, because consumers cannot do it on their own.

“We do not have an epidemic loss of willpower in our children. We do not. Children have not changed in 50 years,” he said.

“What has changed is the world in which children live. And what these sorts of interventions aim to address is that world.”

Organizations: Ontario Medical Association, Bariatric Medical Institute, Consumer Products

Geographic location: Ontario, Ottawa, Canada Denmark

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Recent comments

  • Anne Hoskins
    October 31, 2012 - 10:11

    I think that the real problem is that people don't have time to eat. Nutritious meals need to be cooked by a catering service and be delivered to busy people. Nobody feels like cooking after coming home tired after a hectic day at work.

  • mainlander
    October 30, 2012 - 10:22

    Why do most people not know what a GMO is?! Ban GMO's. Get them out of the food supply. Stop feeding GMO corn and soy to animals that end up in the food supply. Lower the price of organic food.

  • A concerned mom
    October 29, 2012 - 09:34

    I think it's time for our Heath care and our doctors team together with our government to help lower prices of such foods and juice.Yes I agree there are many over weight kids out there ,and what kid don,t drink these energy drinks and they drink juice like there,s no tomorrow.But when could buy a 2 litre soda cheaper then you can buy those V8 fruit and vegetabe juices what choice does a parent have.I have to buy these V8 fruit and vegetable juice for my son for medical reasons.I pay $3.99 a litre I only have one child he drinks two a week not including his milk which cost $4.00 a two litre.These energy drinks should be sold in liqour store,kids as young a 9and 10 buying these,where is Heath Canada sholud,nt they be looking into banning these from stores.My son bought one of these Marley drinks last week which is surposed to relax you and make you feel mellow,well it did just that he fell asleep after drinking it.I went on line and read the can first thing it's says do not operate machinery it's contains a natural root plant that you use to treat insomnia.Even though the clerk told him it was just like a fruit drink.Step up government and remove these drinks from the candy stores.

    • Christopher Birch
      October 29, 2012 - 20:58

      Labels on junk food are a bad idea as are extra taxes. A better use of labels is to put them on prescription drugs handed out like candy by doctors causing more deaths, health care costs, worst ever drug addiction and side effects/complications without ever going to the root cause DIET! Its disgusting how backwards healthcare is because its about making money.,. labels on junk food would make certain big companies rich while closing down competition. meanwhile you get a vaccine and no one tells you its made or chicken egg, monkey liver, has toxins, causes cancer or that drug makes arent liable or the real stats about vaccine injury. HELLO! Grains are worse than sugar for obesity. Dont be fooled. a slice of bread has a higher gi rating than pure sugar with just as little nutrition. Smart option would be to ban unnatural high fructose syrup, MSG( it has 15+ forms/nameS), aspartame( all deadly and all legal while revamping the foodguide to show nutrient dense foods, not grains, flour, grain fed meat , pasturized dead and mucus filled milk. The food pyramid is similar to the hog fattening pyramid. go figure. We live in a land of lies where we are told amalgam is safe, fluoride protects our teeth, dont eat fish for mercury but use mercury laden cfls. Labeling junk food is a waste of resources when the food guide promotes obesity through grain consumption and pasteurized grain fed milk and meat consumption. the government should stay out and do the job of banning man made chems in food. its the first step, they neglected to protect us GIVING INTO bad studies and lobbying by industry. follow the money. They should lable GMO foods, irradiated foods, pasteurized foods, all these things hurt us too. perhaps if a refinement act was passed. sugar couldnt be refined to pure white... at least there would be a little more nutrition. Grocery store box items have health checks, smart checks and its all junk food. whole grain cereal is junk but touted as healthy. fat free makes you fat through extra carbs,.. Whomever thought of labeling junk food surely missed the boat. we cant even label healthy food properly. but healthy food is real greens, vegetables and fruit. they dont come in package or a box with any label otherwise its just junk in disguise.