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Is a Soft Drink Tax the Answer?

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In the early part of this week the papers were full of a story about Doctors demanding a “tax on soft drinks” to tackle the obesity epidemic

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The tax idea was a headline grabbing part of a 10 point plan that the Doctors involved feel will help reduce the growing rates of obesity among adults and children.

My biggest irritation about most of the points I read was that they seem largely concerned with removing fast food and soft drinks from people’s diets, rather than introducing something more healthy. It mentions that schools attempts to introduce healthy meals were being undermined by the burger van at the school gates, but doesn’t really address the problem as to why the food the school provides is so unappetising anyway (or why the children are allowed out to a burger shop at lunch time, we weren’t allowed off school grounds!)

Most people are fat, and it’s not their fault.

Removing the question about whether you can be fat and fit, it certainly seems that most people who are overweight (and with 60% of adults now apparently obese that would be most people) would like to be a little slimmer. You only have to look at the rising profits of companies like Weight Watchers and Slimming World (this story is from the US, but interesting). So why aren’t they?

For my part a combination of the lack af availability of a healthy option, and a world that has arranged our lifestyles so that it’s harder and harder to eat properly and exercise seem to be huge contributors.

My personal lifestyle issues involve a lot of travel and not being able to prepare my own food. Motorways mean travel doesn’t exactly take us through small villages with lovingly prepared food in a local family run restaurant. The choice for lunch or dinner on the go is a limited one.

For others it’s that office buildings have moved out of town centres to industrial parks so they are less able to walk to work. They need to leave earlier to commute and don’t prepare their own lunches, but why would they when they can grab breakfast and lunch on the go from the fast food locations nearby. Offices don’t always offer kitchen facilities to heat up or keep food chilled, the kitchen with a kettle is now a vending machine.

For some people it’s the “24 hour society” we now live in (Remind me I said that next time I run out of milk at 7pm on a Sunday) which means they work nights or late shifts and their eating is erratic.

It’s human nature to take the easy option. We’re encouraged to think of cooking as an unnecessary waste of time between work, TV, the pub and bed that can be shrunk to the smallest possible time by cooking “30 minute meals” or buying pre chopped onions.

On demand TV, hard drive recorders and the huge number of TV channels mean we no longer tune into watch a show, but instead view the TV as whole evenings entertainment, and cooking dinner as an unecessary distraction, especially when someones just popped a pizza menu through the door.

I used to think of the Big Mac as the biggest of all big burgers, it contains around 500 calories. Now when you go into a fast food restaurant the regular menu is hidden away and we’re confronted head on with banners promoting this weeks super fabulous unique limited edition mega burger containing over 800 calories just for the burger, and do we want the special offer potato wedges with that? I’ve recently seen a pizza menu promoting the fact it has the cities only 20″ pizza.

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When food companies are apparently using the same sort of techniques used by tobacco companies in the past to protect their profit margins what hope do we really have as consumers of being able to make a healthy choice. I wonder whether in 30 years time we’ll be seeing lawsuits against food companies, much like those against tobacco companies in the past. Even if you want to make the healthy choice the food companies have spent huge amounts of money on making that as difficult for you as possible.

An organised person, of course, would prepare a whole weeks meals in advance and shop ahead, but those food companies alongside over 60 years of post war convenience culture are doing everything they possibly can to discourage you from doing that. They want you to believe that you are too busy, that it’s easier and just as good to buy their ready meals and that the “low fat” option means the “healthy” option.

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So will a tax on soft drinks and moving fast food outlets help? In my (completely unqualified) opinion, no, not unless you provide people with the tools to replace those options with something else, or make that something else cheaper. It doesn’t necessarily sound like a bad place to start however. Anything that discourages the consumption of high amounts of saturated fat and sugar can only be a positive move.

Could an increase in taxation and a ban on ads bring about the same cultural shift as happened with smoking? In future could choosing the burger instead of the deli chicken wrap or salad be socially frowned on, and ordering a pizza become an occasional occurence rather than a regular weekly treat.ย  After all, part of the decline of the popularity of tobacco can be attributed to advertising bans and government backed health based ad campaigns.

I don’t really know, I’m just an overweight girl irritated with my lack of choice, but till something changes we’ll continue to be fat, and it won’t be all our fault.

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10 Responses
  • Jamie (Zombie Fitness)
    February 20, 2013

    That burger is so bad.. but I feel strangely drawn to it…

    My issue with health / fitness is that it’s usually cheaper to buy the bad stuff if you don’t know where to look for the healthy stuff. That and convenience forming a large part of everyday life means chippy chips are a more popular alternative to grilled chicken salad.

    I genuinely believe that the old school long treks by horse and cart, passing through villages etc. is a better way of life that we should go back to. Simpler times ๐Ÿ™‚

    Jamie @ The Zombie Fitness Blog

    • Lady Lipstick
      February 20, 2013

      Oh my, you have no idea how badly I want to eat a huge pizza after researching the pictures for this post!

      Yes, it’s far more convenient and cheaper to buy “bad” ready made and takeaway stuff, than it is to make your own. We’ve lost the skills to plan a weeks meals as cheaply as possible. Even buying chicken breasts (which I confess I do!) rather than a whole chicken to make meals out of.

      Not sure I fancy a horse and cart, but we’ve certainly lost some quality of life somewhere along the way on the drive for more speed!

    • Roxie Roulette
      February 20, 2013

      I have to agree. I love eating healthy, but on a student budget it is much easier just to go for the bad stuff to save a few pennies. Who knew veggies were so expensive? Even the ones in season cost more than crisps, sweets, etc.

      • Lady Lipstick
        February 20, 2013

        Big bags of frozen veggies can be quite cost effective, but you’re right, on a ยฃ per calorie basis not as good!

        When I was a student my favourite meal was chicken kiev, pasta with cheddar cheese, dried herbs and butter and tinned sweetcorn. Yum

  • Mim
    February 20, 2013

    I find this tax bizarre – I’m a fat lady, married to a fat chap, and neither of us drink fizzy drinks, nor do we stuff down endless burgers. All sorts of things in life contribute to weight gain, and this sort of tax won’t solve the obesity problems.

    We’ve started having some success on the 5/2 diet. I won’t go into that here, but what it has made me realise is how little I understood calorie content previously. Even good food isn’t helpful if you’re eating too much of it. My husband made a spread sheet; you type in what quantities you’re cooking with and it tells you the total calorie count for your meal – and oh boy did I get a shock the first time I weighed my ‘normal’ amount of rice and typed that in!

    • Lady Lipstick
      February 20, 2013

      Of course, too many oranges will make you fat!

      Portion control is another thing we’ve lost control of I think. But that’s exactly the problem when restaurants and fast food places serve such huge portions you start to perceive it as normal!

  • wendy
    February 20, 2013

    I went for a healthy option for lunch yesterday and aimed for a store that markets itself as a healthy food alternative. The small pot of stew with low GI rice I had contained the same number of calories as that big mac you’ve mentioned and that was without the optional roll (incidentally, that stew was a touch under ยฃ5 and I was hungry a couple of hours later so I grabbed a bar of chocolate). Granted the fat content will be a lot lowers, but its still a heck of a lot of calories for not very much food. Until there are real alternatives out there that don’t involve a limp bit of lettuce and half a tomato people will eat it, and some people will eat it every day. I know I should make myself lunch in the morning, but I leave the house just after 5am and I’d rather have an extra 10 minutes in bed instead of eating a sandwich thats been squashed between me and some business man on the tube – who wouldn’t.

    Perhaps instead of taxing people they should look at why people are buying these things in the first place and deal with that. I got home after almost 14 hours away from the house yesterday and there was no way I was going to start preparing a meal. I ate a cake and went to bed.

  • Flake And Cake
    February 21, 2013

    This is such a good article. I’m personally all for more choice in the shops – that means different sizes of everything. If I could choose between a big a mini fizzy drink, I’d go mini every time. Or big if I wanted to share. I’d choose a large healthy salad, or a smaller donut as a treat for afters. That is what frustrates me about our options at the moment. It is not cheap to eat healthy when you’re on the road and I don’t have the self control to eat half a donut.

  • Eileen Hoglund
    April 25, 2013

    Personally, I think this is just another propaganda… Another pretentious useful act from the government to act like they care, and to get more of our hard-earned cash. People still drink alcohol and smoke … and they will still drink soda.. This is just non-sense!