Academia again looking in wrong direction on Obesity Issue
I see the usual shrieking around the need for what is essentially a ‘Fat and Sugar Tax’ is doing the rounds on Twitter and the NZ Herald again.
From the NZ Herald:
Tax salty, fatty foods and ‘save 2400 lives’
By Martin Johnston 5:00 AM Thursday Jul 9, 2015
Subsidy on fruit and vegetables also needed, say researchers.
About 2400 lives a year could be saved by putting a 20 per cent tax on our saltiest, fattiest foods and by cutting the price of fruit and vegetables with a 20 per cent subsidy.
The system of penalties and rewards would swing purchasing towards healthier options, gradually leading to a healthier population, say researchers from the universities of Auckland, Otago and Oxford, who estimated the likely effects on New Zealand death rates.
Based on Statistics NZ data, they modelled the effects of a 20 per cent price increase or decrease of quantities purchased and subsequent death rates from heart attack, stroke, diabetes and diet-related cancers.
The biggest effect of an individual component – a 6.8 per cent reduction in overall mortality – was from a 20 per cent price bump in food groups that are important contributors to our salt intake. These include bread and breakfast cereals; processed meat; sauces and condiments; beef, lamb hogget and poultry; and takeaway food and drink.
The tax will ultimately fail for two reasons:
- It is a regressive tax (like GST) that has a disproportionate effect on lower incomes than those on higher incomes
- Our City is inaccessible. That is Auckland is not built for walking, cycling and public transport. It is built for the car. As a result we get inactivity more than if the City was built for walking, cycling and public transport rather than the car – so accessible.
To make the situation more sad is that the highest level of Type 2 Diabetes (in which poor diet and inactivity) is also in the higher social deprivation areas of Auckland – South and West Auckland. Given that both South and West Auckland are inaccessible by anything else BUT a car a Fat Tax on the lower-income earners would be double punitive.
On the flip side subsidies on fruit and vegetables wont work either for also two reasons:
- No distinguishing on income so those who can afford it will utilise it more to their advantage than who the subsidy was originally designed for
- Auckland is still inaccessible by anything OTHER than the CAR. So inactivity levels remain the same.
The main point is that Auckland is not designed for walking, cycling and public transport. Furthermore our parks network is seriously wanting especially as the City grows. The result? Well of course activity is going to be minimal if Auckland is hostile to the people who live in it.
The solution to help with this obesity issue is very straight forward. Yes education as that will help people make informed choices. The rest is done through planning and community.
- The car is not king, people are. This means walking and cycling to get from A to B or even a trip around the block should be first preference (given most commutes are within 5km of the start point). So how about:
- Dedicated Cycle lanes on main thoroughfares
- All residential non main thoroughfares reduced to a default speed of 30km/h
- All Metropolitan Centre streets not deemed arterials reduced to 40km/h as default
- More shared streets
- Removal of slip lanes unless Auckland Transport is willing to put in pedestrian crossings on those slip lanes
- Less design and construction of multi lane roads with multi lane roundabouts (Yes you Mill Road) that make things hostile for everyone
- Narrow streets up to discourage cars using the street as a “highway”
- If needed lots of speed tables
- Mass Transit accessible to urban Auckland. This is through frequency of services, reliability of services, infrastructure like bus lanes which are enforced, and inter modal connections at train stations.
- Parks, LOTS AND LOTS and I mean LOTS of parks. Whether it is in a residential area, or a parklet or even a plaza in a Metropolitan Centre one can never have too many parks within 800 metres of your home, place of work, or that shopping trip. And through parks I don’t mean big parks although those are great, I mean lots of well designed small parks (no bigger than 500m2) dotted all around the urban fabric that not only act as place for recreation but act as lungs for the City.
Initiatives like this would benefit communities a lot:
Also using some of those parks I mentioned above as community gardens where fresh vegetables and fruit are grown would also help accessibility to good (and relatively free) food.
These initiatives would go a greater distance in promoting better health incomes rather than a clumsy and regressive fat and sugar tax.