Thursday, October 6, 2016
Can We Legislate Healthy Eating?
Finland, France, and Mexico tax sweetened drinks. Norway taxes chocolate and sweets. The Mayor of Turin is promoting a vegetarian/vegan diet. Will it work? Can we legislate healthy eating?
In 2013, 42 million infants and young children world-wide were overweight or obese. Cities and countries around the world are taking note and trying to promote a low-sugar diet by taxing sugar. But can it work?
A reduction in the number of smokers in Canada appears to be linked to the introduction of a tax on tobacco products. But the impact hasn’t been evenly distributed. Individuals with a lower income are hardest hit by the tax on tobacco products, but a very small percentage has stopped smoking. The greatest change has been among people with a higher income and more education.
In the United Kingdom, the government promised to take strong measures to address childhood obesity. In addition to a sugar tax, plans included restricting television ads and supermarket promotions of junk food. The legislation that has now been introduced in parliament takes the pressure off industry by focusing on a tax on sugary pop rather than a well-rounded policy that addresses hidden sugars, fat, and junk food advertising.
A recent United Nations report emphasizes that a diet high in meat and dairy is unsustainable and a vegetable-focused diet is necessary in order to address world hunger, poverty, and the worsts impacts of climate change. But eating meat is deeply ingrained in our culture and way of life and habits won’t be altered overnight.
Despite the public outcry, Turin’s mayor is not legislating dietary changes. Instead, the emphasis is on public education, “teaching children how to eat well while protecting the earth and animal rights.”
A more proactive approach has been taken in Ghent, Belgium, where Thursday has been Veggie Day since 2009. Meat-free meals are served in schools and municipal offices, and restaurants are encouraged to include a vegetarian option on their menus.
Meatless Monday, which encourages eating a vegetarian meal one day a week, is active in 36 countries. Mark Bittman, an American food writer, proposes a vegetarian diet during the day with animal proteins for supper.
Can we force people to change their diet? No. But municipalities and countries can play a vital role in encouraging their citizens to eat a healthier, more sustainable diet by ensuring the availability of healthy food, regulating junk food advertising and promotions, and supporting restaurants and businesses that provide healthy food options.
This article was originally published in the October/November 2016 issue of flow magazine
Photos: Mercado de la Boqueria, Barcelona