Government must act now to curb Canada’s obesity epidemic  

March 4, 2003 Kamloops Daily News

It’s a threat to our health care system that rivals that of our aging population but nobody is doing much about it.  Young people are becoming obese at an alarming rate and they will require medical attention earlier in life due diabetes, hypertension and other diseases.  Overweight and obese Canadians now cost our economy $1.8 billion a year and that’s just the start.  It’s only going up.

Who cares?  We should care because we all pay for health care.  More specifically, our governments should care.  Federal finance minister John Manley will spend $35 Billion on health care over the next 5 years but most of that is catch-up from a decade of underfunding.  Little is going to fight obesity.

For some activists, it’s a political problem.  Mariko Tamaki makes a statement through performance art.  She’s tired of the dictates of the fashion industry and their twiggy models.   Tamaki is part of a dance group called Pretty, Porky and Pissed Off.   This is no ordinary dance group.  They are all big women and their physique is their art.  It’s part performance, part politics.

“I mean if you look any clothing size scale then fat is anything over 12. But I think that if you look at movies, fat is anything over a size eight, you know,” Tamaki told CBC television.

For psychologists, it’s a question of mental health.  Many of us feel inferior when we look in the mirror and compare ourselves with the slim bodies in advertising and in media.  The contrast is downright depressing.

The response from the marketplace has been feeble.  Drug manufacturers have responded with dangerous diet drugs such as Meridia and Xenical.  Health Canada is taking a closer look at Meridia after it was linked to several deaths in the US and Europe.

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Toy manufacturers have come up with a new doll, called Emme, whose a body size is six sizes bigger than Barbie.  It’s a way of letting little girls get used to a new reality.

Fashion designers have come up with new clothes for bigger Canadians.   The problem with all this is that it’s dangerous to make overweight people feel good about themselves.

“I am a very free market kind of a guy, very pro-capitalism, very anti-regulation. Having said all of that, it is also very clear that when you cater to something, you get more of it.  When you cater more to the obese, whether it’s running ads telling them that big is beautiful or when you’re changing the sizes of clothing to accommodate these people, whatever you’re doing to make it easier to be fat, is making people fatter,” says Michael Fumento author of The Fat of the Land.

I’m not exactly pro-capitalist but I do agree with Fumento.

Health Minister Anne McLellan will spend $15 million on research to find out why obesity and obesity-related health problems are on the rise.  I think I can save McLellan some money.  There is no mystery why people are getting fatter.  It’s a matter of inputs and outputs.

We are eating more calories and exercising less.  We eat more calories is because advertising for fast food works.  You won’t see tantalizing, snappy ads for fruit, vegetables and whole grain cereals because there is little money in it.

I’d like to see an ad for a brisk walk in the fresh air – – something as convincing as those ads for Sports Utility Vehicles, where we are encouraged to enjoy nature by driving through it.

The sad fact is that there is little money to be made in selling healthy food and exercise – – unless the food is reduced to a pill and the exercise is on a machine.

We could save on health care costs if everyone were encouraged eat healthy foods and to exercise.  Not tame messages, like your mother telling you to eat vegetables, but powerful advertising campaigns like the ones from the fast food and automotive industries.

Governments should run these advertising campaigns on our behalf. After all, its governments (us) who have to pay for the increased health costs of poor diet and lack of exercise.

And in case you think that governments can’t mobilize resources and opinion in a common cause, consider the war on terrorism.  Obesity is a greater threat to society than terrorism.  All it takes is the political will to fight this clear and present danger.

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