For food companies, fat children are 'investment in future sales'

Thousands of Canadians die every year from the obesity epidemic.

Lancet suggests ways to create incentives for healthy eating

Tackling obesity epidemic

The Exchange with Amanda Lang

6 years ago
After The Lancet recommends ways to promote healthy eating, Amanda Lang talks to a Canadian expert 7:10

Tonight's first order of business is the thousands of Canadians who die every year from an epidemic we seem unable to control...that is, the obesity epidemic.

Salt, sugar and fat in our diets has put obesity on an alarming upward trajectory - and worse still, it's a problem that now starts in early childhood. Pointing fingers at corporate-owned food companies hasn't got us very far, but this isn't a problem any nation can afford to ignore.

— Amanda Lang

In six articles printed in the Lancet, a top medical journal, researchers say not one country out of 187 has reversed what they call the obesity epidemic.  And as of 2010, only one in four countries implemented a policy on healthy eating.

Now, an estimated 2.1 billion people are overweight, which accounts for about 2.8 million deaths per year. Children face some of the highest risk, according to the authors, as they're falling prey to colourful and fun fast-foods ads.

As one of the authors puts it, "fat children are an investment in future sales."  The average American kid is 11 pounds heavier than three decades ago.

That's a $20 billion boon to the food industry every year.

"I don't think they want to make people ill. That's not their goal. They're just working within a system that requires them to make profit. And a way to do that is certainly to explore these vulnerabilities that we have to foods that are high in sugar, high in salt, high in fat. From a business perspective it makes sense that they would do that," says researcher Christine Roberto.

The authors want an international code of food marketing to protect children. They also suggest stronger regulation of nutritional quality in schools.

Other recommendations include:

  • A tax on junk food.
  • Mandatory food labelling.
  • And subsidies for healthy foods for those who can't afford them.

Nearly two-thirds of Canadian adults are overweight or obese, and that costs our economy as much as $30 billion a year.

Amanda Lang talks to Bill Jeffery, national coordinator for the Centre for Science in the Public Interest.


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