Should the Government Slap Tobacco-Style Regulations on Fatty Foods?

Two international organizations say that heavier regulations on the food industry are needed to stop the obesity epidemic.

LAS VEGAS, NV - MAY 09: Pimento cheeseburgers and a white Russian milkshake are served at the BLT Burger booth at Vegas Uncork'd by Bon Appetit's Grand Tasting event at Caesars Palace on May 9, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
National Journal
Clara Ritger
May 19, 2014, 12:13 p.m.

If the gov­ern­ment wants to make pro­gress in lower­ing obesity rates, it needs to start reg­u­lat­ing fatty foods much the way it does to­bacco.

That’s the re­com­mend­a­tion from a pair of in­ter­na­tion­al health or­gan­iz­a­tions push­ing policies it says would an­swer the obesity epi­dem­ic.

Spe­cific­ally, the groups re­com­mend that the gov­ern­ment con­trol the way the food and bever­age in­dustry ad­vert­ises, to en­sure com­pan­ies aren’t im­ply­ing un­healthy food is good for chil­dren and adults. Ad­di­tion­ally, they ad­vise gov­ern­ments to re­quire state­ments on food pack­aging about how high or low the con­tent of salt, sat­ur­ated fat, and sug­ar is in re­la­tion to di­et­ary guidelines. On a broad­er scale, the or­gan­iz­a­tions call for a re­versal of food policy, call­ing on taxes for un­healthy foods and sub­sidies for healthy ones.

Con­sumers In­ter­na­tion­al and World Obesity Fed­er­a­tion are present­ing the glob­al frame­work this week to the World Health As­sembly in Geneva, Switzer­land.

Ul­ti­mately, the groups say gov­ern­ments should re­move ar­ti­fi­cial trans fats from all food with­in five years of their guidelines be­ing ad­op­ted.

Much of the policy would face a dif­fi­cult, if not im­possible, path to pas­sage in the U.S. Con­gress, but the groups did have one sug­ges­tion that is already be­ing put in­to place. The groups re­com­mend that res­taur­ants be re­quired to post cal­or­ie in­form­a­tion about their food — a re­quire­ment already be­ing im­ple­men­ted in the U.S. as part of the Af­ford­able Care Act.

Glob­al deaths re­lated to obesity have ris­en from 2.6 mil­lion in 2005 to 3.4 mil­lion in 2010, ac­cord­ing to the or­gan­iz­a­tions.

More than 1.4 bil­lion adults are over­weight and at risk of neg­at­ive health con­sequences, such as car­di­ovas­cu­lar dis­ease, dia­betes, and can­cer, ac­cord­ing to 2008 stat­ist­ics from the World Health Or­gan­iz­a­tion.

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