CO031 Christopher Snowdon on Fighting Obesity

Christopher Snowdon is the Head of Lifestyle Economics for the right-leaning Institute of Economic Affairs; he also writes for Spectator Health.

I mentioned obesity statistics from the Centres for Disease Control:

  • Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.
  • The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2012. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to nearly 21% over the same period.
  • In 2012, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.

The Harvard School of Public Health says that young people are getting up to 30 per cent of their daily calories requirement from soft drinks. Beverage companies in the US spent roughly $3.2 billion marketing carbonated beverages in 2006, with nearly a half billion dollars of that marketing aimed directly at children.

Since the 1970s the proportion of calories from sugary drinks more than doubled from 4 per cent to 9 per cent.

Economics push food companies to include more sugar in products to increase profits. Since the 1980s, the price of supermarket sugar has doubled, the price of candy bars have quadrupled, but the price of raw sugar has declined, and is set to decline further.

A literature review by the National Institutes of Health indicates that sugary drinks are particularly problematic because the body doesn’t register their calories the way it does for calories eaten, so despite the sugar intake, people still feel hungry.

The British Medical Association’s study in the BMJ reported that purchases of taxed beverages decreased by an average of 6%, and decreased at an increasing rate up to a 12% decline by December 2014, comparted to what they would otherwise have been. Reductions were higher among the households of low socioeconomic status, averaging a 9% decline during 2014, and up to a 17% decrease by December 2014 compared with pretax trends.