We are in a national weight crisis. Obesity death rates now approximate those tied to smoking.
Maybe the most chilling fact tied to our weight crisis is that 17% of our children are obese. Obese children have a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer as adults. But the health consequences of children obesity is not just tomorrow’s problem. A child who is obese for two conservative years incurs 3.5 times the annual health care costs of a non-obese child. The hospitalization costs for obese children have doubled in less than ten years to approximately $250 million per year.
The good news is that the obesity growth rate for children has flattened. Moms are acting to protect their children by improving their diets and promoting physical activity.
But the commitments by moms are not enough to stop our national weight crisis. What is required is a national commitment. As an economist, the choice is as clear as choosing health and prosperity or illness and health cost created bankruptcy.
U.K. acts to reduce obesity
Like the United States, the U.K. faces an children obesity epidemic. One third of U.K. children are either overweight or obese.
The U.K. plan is grounded on economics. Today the U.K. spends more on weight related health care than they spend on fire service, police and the judicial system.
The U.K. plan mirrors the type of actions America has taken to curtail tobacco use. U.S. tobacco regulations and taxes have reduced the percentage of Americans that smoke from over 40% in 1965, when smoking became a national issue, to today’s 17%.
We also have increased granularity on how human behavior does change in scaled proportion to the size of imposed taxes and regulations. States with the highest taxes and most regulation of tobacco have the lowest rate of tobacco use. States with limited tax or regulation of tobacco consumption have the highest use of tobacco. Tellingly, the states with lower tobacco taxes/regulations also have the lowest levels of human health.
What the U.K. is acting on, and the U.S. has failed to accept, is that human weight is now as much of a health and financial crisis as tobacco consumption.
The U.K. obesity reduction plan
The U.K. government is focusing on curtailing sugar and increasing physical activity to achieve human weight levels that promote health.
The focus on sugar is driven by emerging research that identifies sugar as the most significant diet component causing our national weight crisis. Soda companies defend sugar as just another calorie. Research now undercuts this premise by identifying the biochemical impacts created through sugar consumption, and sugar derivatives like fructose. Inducement of insulin resistance is one identified biochemical effect. Insulin regulates how our body uses, or stores, food. Altering our body’s ability to use insulin creates serious health consequences.
The two key policy actions being taken by the U.K. to reduce sugar in foods and beverages are:
1. Taxing sugary sodas
Recognizing the potential for consumer backlash against paying a higher tax for anything, the sugar tax is imposed on soda companies. The higher tax is intended to create a financial incentive for soda companies to find lower cost plus healthier solutions. The higher tax also attempts to create a financial incentive for promoting non-sugar beverage sales. The money raised by the tax will be used to fund healthier school meals and increased youth participation in sport activities.
2. Reducing sugar product content by 20%
Using 2015 as a baseline year, sugar content targets will be established for all foods sold in markets or restaurants. These sugar content targets will be set at 20% less that the sugar content measured in foods during 2015.
Promoting physical activity is a third component of the U.K. plan. The U.K. will be funding programs that enable children having at least one hour of physical activity per day.
Making food labels more understandable is the fourth key component of the U.K. plan. Apparently food labels in the U.K. are just as uninformative as they are in the U.S. Both of our current labels show a product’s total sugar content. What is missing is specific consumption information on sugars that are easily over-consumed. The U.K. plan will revise food and beverage labels rule to enable individual portion management through messaging that is understandable and useful.
About the author
Bill Roth is a clean tech pioneer who led the team that launched the first hydrogen fueled Prius. He is a featured contributor on Triple Pundit and Latin Business Today. His book, The Secret Green Sauce, has been used by thousands of business people to implement proven green best practices that make money and a difference. Bill’s latest book, The Boomer Generation Diet, is his personal story on how to achieve sustained weight loss while still having fun and living more. The book’s ten customizable best practices are the sustainable solutions to our national weight crisis that threatens our health and medical cost bankruptcy.