Fast food ban fails

April 1st, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Atlantic reports:

The national discourse about health and obesity has never been a particularly cordial conversation.

In 2008, it hit a tendentious peak when a ban on new fast-food restaurants in South Los Angeles brought the term “food apartheid” to the table. The ordinance, which was implemented in a part of the city that is both disproportionately poor and obese, came as a response to the idea that there are two different systems for accessing food in Los Angeles, one with more limited options in an economically depressed part of the city that is predominantly black and Latino, and the other with more variety in more affluent neighborhoods.

We often hear that if you ban bottle stores, fast food outlets etc that it will reduce alcohol abuse, reduce obesity etc.

The ordinance didn’t shutter existing restaurants, but it did block construction of new stand-alone fast-food restaurants in an area with 700,000 residents. (That’s a population that, if separated from the rest of Los Angeles, would still make one of the U.S.’s 20 largest cities.) The effort also dovetailed with an initiative to encourage supermarkets and stores with presumably healthier fare to move in.

So how did this ban on new fast food outlets go?

On Friday, the ban got a dose of bad news: A study released by the RAND Corporation revealed that the ordinance had “failed to reduce fast-food consumption or reduce obesity rates in the targeted neighborhood.” In fact, obesity rates in the area had grown at a faster clip than elsewhere in the city. As NBC News reported, the percentage of people in South Los Angeles who were overweight or obese in 2007 was 63 percent. By 2011, that figure was 75 percent.

The solution to obesity is education, parenting and determination, not bans.

Note that the increase in obesity in this area was faster than the rest of the city.


WHO wants to ban some food advertising

March 7th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Daily Caller reports:

Fat kids are serious business. So serious, in fact, that the United Nations is urging countries to let its bureaucrats micromanage what foods are allowed to advertise on TV.

The European branch of the World Health Organization (WHO), the health arm of the U.N., is trying to stop childhood obesity by urging countries to adopt an international blueprint that would ban almost all food advertisements targeted at children and place substantial regulatory influence in the hands of the UN. …

With that in mind, last week, WHO’s Regional Office for Europe released a “nutrient profile model” that it recommends as the model for how countries go about deciding what foods should be locked out of advertising to children. Such a model is currently only used in a handful of countries, including Norway, the U.K. and Denmark, but WHO is hoping that with its nudging more countries will imitate these policies.

The exhaustive model breaks foods into 17 different groups, ranging from processed fruits and vegetables to cheese. Each category is evaluated on its nutritional content per 100g of food. Foods that exceed thresholds for sugar, fat, salt or calories would be barred from any marketing that would increase the food’s appeal to children. For example, a cheese would fall under the ban if it contains at least 20g of fat or 1.3g of salt per 100g.

If adopted, the model would totally prohibit all advertisements for chocolate, candy, cake, sugary soda, ice cream and fruit juice. The only foods subject to no restrictions whatsoever are meats fresh fruits, poultry and vegetables.

So at first they just ban advertisements for these foods. Then they ban the foods themselves.


A child obesity health target?

February 13th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman is looking at introducing a Health Target to control child obesity. …

Auckland University obesity expert Professor Boyd Swinburn, representing 40 public health specialists, is scheduled to meet Dr Coleman at his Beehive office today to discuss a child obesity target. “We want to show there’s substantial public health support if he wants to go down this track,” Professor Swinburn said.

He wants the Government to aim for reducing our rate of obese and overweight children from around a third at present to around a quarter – Australia’s current rate – by 2025.

It is not inappropriate for the Government to want to reduce the obesity rate with children. A lower obesity rate would be a very good thing.

But the Government does not have a huge influence of issues such as obesity. It can guarantee good outcomes for elective surgery, and ED waiting times because it funds the public health system and can put resources in to achieve the outcomes.

On other public health issues it can reasonably comfortably achieve a target such as x% of kids vaccinated, as getting parents to vaccinate their kids is not asking them to do something radically different. It is just getting them in to see a doctor.

But to try and have fewer obese kids is a different category. That requires parents (and kids) to quite radically change their behaviour. It means better parenting skills where parents take more care with what they feed their kids, and make sure they exercise more. And improving parenting skills is about as tough as it can get.

The NZ Medical Association has called for a broad front to tackle obesity, with measures such as a tax on sugary drinks, greater protection of children from the marketing of unhealthy foods, traffic light food labelling and a halt to fast-food outlets opening near schools.

Dr Coleman said the Government would not introduce a sugar tax because it wouldn’t work.

It is good that has been rejected. But we should be wary of some of the other proposals which all involve the state deciding what foods can be advertised and sold. That is a slippery slope. Any policies should be focused on supporting parents and kids to make healthier decisions around food and exercise. Not about new taxes and restrictions.

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Another stupid experiment

December 5th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

In an experiment similar to that of Super Size Me, in which US filmmaker Morgan Spurlock ate nothing but McDonald’s for 30 days, George Prior, a 50-year-old Los Angeles father of two has documented weight and health changes after introducing 10 cans of Coca-Cola a day into his diet. 

Super Size Me was a con. Spurlock ate 5,000 calories of food a day. Of course he out on weight. A less biased experiment saw someone eat McDonalds every day for three months, and lose weight – as they kept to 2,000 calories a day.

Drinking 10 cans of Coke a day is an extra 1400 calories a day, so every six to seven days you will put on a kg of weight. This is not because Coke is inherently bad. Just that you should not drink 10 cans of it a day.

I like Eggs Benedict. If I ate Eggs Benedict ten times a day, I’d get very unwell. If I have it once a week, it is fine.

There is no good or bad food. It is all about moderation and variety. But experiments like this are about demonising a company because they’re a large corporate.

Mr Prior used a combination of Facebook and YouTube entries to show the transformation that resulted in a 10.5 kilogram increase in his weight and a body fat increase from 9 to 16 per cent.

If you drank 3.5 litres of orange juice a day, you’d have an even bigger weight gain as there are more calories in orange juice than coke. Sure Coke has sugar (which is why I only drink Coke Zero or Diet Coke) but it is the extra calories that would have the main impact.


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Calorie labelling

December 3rd, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

I’m a big fan of places in the US where stores display calorie counts with their menus. I always look at them before deciding what to buy, and will often buy something different to my preference, once I know its calorie count.

However it seems I am a minority. Emily Oster at 538 writes:

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration announced sweeping rules that will require extensive calorie labeling nationwide. This includes on menus at chain restaurants, movie theaters, bakeries, coffee shops and vending machines. This change has been hailed by legislators and food-policy experts as a landmark in fighting obesity.

But will it work? The evidence I pulled together above isn’t conclusive. …

What does this mean for the success of the FDA labeling effort? It seems plausible that some subset of individuals at some restaurant locations will decrease their calorie intake. In fact, this seems almost certain. Every time I bring up calorie labeling with people I work with, someone will describe how the practice changed their behavior. One colleague realized that her habit of purchasing muffins rather than croissants to save calories was a waste — croissants have fewer calories than muffins.

On the other hand, if the idea is that these changes will drastically affect obesity in low-income populations eating at fast-food chains, the evidence doesn’t support this hope.

So it will be of benefit to some people like me, who are already motivated to think about the health impact of what I eat, but may have little impact on those most in need.

A supporter of calorie labeling will ask, “What is the downside?” Even if only a small fraction of people respond by decreasing their calories, there is no loss to those who did not change. So, why worry about it? This ignores the obvious cost to restaurants of calculating the calories in their products and of changing their menus. A grocery-store industry trade group estimated the cost of compliance with calorie-labeling rules could initially amount to $1 billion. The change also ignores the possible psychic costs to people.

Even if I am still going to eat a muffin after I learn that there are 520 calories in it, I may feel worse about doing so. If the actual impact of calorie labeling is to encourage only a few people to eat fewer calories but to make many more people feel worse about themselves, it seems less than obvious that it is a welfare-improving idea.

I’d like to see more stores in NZ do calorie labelling, but I don’t think there is a case for it to be mandatory – based on the evidence to date.

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Rich on sugar tax

July 11th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Katherine Rich writes at Stuff:

Sugar taxes will extract more money from citizens’ wallets for governments but do nothing to curb obesity.

While sugar is seen by some as the current food demon, it’s important to dial back the hysteria for a fact-based discussion.

Sugars are an important part of people’s diets, providing energy for the body and brain. Over the past decade, sucrose consumption in New Zealand has declined, and reports suggest most people consume at moderate levels.

All this while obesity has been rising. The remaining part of the energy-in, energy-out equation is physical activity, but anti-sugar activists prefer to blame food companies.

Of course.

And note when they propose a new tax, they never propose lowering other taxes to compensate.

The inconvenient truth for those wanting to scapegoat full-sugar carbonated drinks – fizzy – is that there has been a dramatic drop in sales in the past 15 years as consumers turn to the growing array of zero calorie and diet fizz options now available.

With Kiwis eating less sugar and drinking less sugary fizz at a time of rising obesity levels, it’s nonsense to pretend fizz taxes are going to magic away the obesity problem.

I only drink a soda with sugar in it around 1% of the time – if nothing else is available.

Those arguing that because taxes helped curb tobacco harm they will work for sugar overlook the fact that tobacco taxes work only because they add close to 500 per cent to the cost of the product.

Those wanting to apply such taxes to fizz are effectively advocating for a 1.5 litre family serve of Coke to jump from $3.39 to nearly $17.

Don’t give them ideas!

And likening food regulation to tobacco regulation doesn’t bear even the slightest scrutiny. We have to eat food to live. Food consumed in moderation is not harmful.


A fizz tax of 10 per cent or 20 per cent will extract more money from Kiwis but leave buyer behaviour unchanged because, as British nutrition expert Professor Jack Winkler points out, “demand for soft drinks is very inelastic, very unresponsive”.

In his 2011 commentary in the British Journal of Nutrition, he said a 10 per cent tax on soft drinks would, at best, change behaviours by “less than a sip. It would not even cut sugar intake by a gram”.

But it would take more money out of taxpayers pockets and into the Government’s.

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Should parents be accountable for fat kids?

June 9th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

As some doctors here for for taxes and bans on certain food and drinks, Cristina Odone has a different solution – hold parents responsible, rather than advertisers.

She writes in The Telegraph:

“What do we hate? The Nanny state!” might be a suitable marching song for conservatives — until, that is, children’s well-being is compromised. When parents abuse their role as their child’s protectors the state is right to intervene. Which is why the couple in Norfolk, arrested for allowing their son’s weight to reach 15 stone, should face court.

The son is aged only 11. To be 95 kgs at 11 years old is horrendous. He’s only five feet tall.

Imagine parents who regularly gave their son heroin; or a bottle of vodka. Anyone observing such behaviour would instinctively call the police to save the child. The same now has to be true of a child whose parents are feeding him too many of the wrong things. We now know that food — junk food, fatty food, sugar, additives  – can prove as damaging to a child’s health as heroin or alcohol. Indeed, sugar is so toxic that experts claim it is as bad as tobacco: it leads not only to obesity, but to diabetes too.

Parents who ignore these facts and ply their children with excess food (or just really bad food) are abusing their children as clearly as those who let them take drugs. In the case of the couple in Norfolk, their son suffers from autism: he is all the more at the mercy of his parents’ care. They defend his weight by claiming that it is down to bad genes. Wrong: it’s down to the parents.

Genes of course play a part. But they don’t get you that large at age 11.

The pressure is on to change Britons’ diet. Sadly, the best way forward is to scare the living daylights out of parents who have been too lazy to monitor their child’s eating. The threat of a prison sentence, and of social services taking the child in care, sound draconian but might prove the only solutions.

There is a point where it probably does become child abuse.

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Campaigning against individual responsibility

February 17th, 2014 at 6:53 am by David Farrar

The health ****s are gathering today. Stuff reports:

Health advocates are drawing battle lines against “Big Food”, claiming drastic intervention is needed to stave off a diabetes crisis in New Zealand.

As adult obesity nears a third of the population, individual responsibility for diet and exercise is clearly not enough, said Dr Gabrielle Jenkin, an Otago University of Wellington health academic who is co-ordinating a seminar today in Wellington.

Government policymakers were reluctant to legislate against “Big Food” – industry powers such as Fonterra, Coca-Cola, Heinz Wattie’s, fast food chains and Foodstuffs and Progressive supermarkets, she said. Many so-called nutrition research bodies were sponsored by Big Food, she said. Dietitians New Zealand, for instance, stated on its website that it is backed by Unilever and Nestle.

How terrible. I’ve got a rule of thumb which is often correct. When so called researchers are more focused on the companies involved in an industry, than anything else, they’ve lost perspective. They just want to damage the companies they personally disapprove of.

Jenkin said “tainted” research was presented at select committees as unbiased fact. “They’re corrupting science.”

The translation here is that anything I disagree with is corrupt.

She claimed Big Food was more powerful than Big Tobacco, and likely to be more aggressive if policy turned against it.

The industry put the onus on individuals to fight obesity, so governments tended to promote diet and exercise rather than legislating against unhealthy food, she said.

Of course it fucking is, because there is nothing wrong with so called unhealthy food in moderation. I almost never eat chocolate due to its very high calorie and sugar count. But when I go tramping, then I buy some chocolate to make up scroggin for energy during the tramp.

I don’t want any fucking busy bodies legislating to tell me I can’t buy chocolate because it is unhealthy.

However,some governments had stood up to Big Food. In Britain, manufacturers have been forced to reduce fat, sugar and salt, and New York’s governor attempted to restrict portion sizes and introduce nutritional information in restaurants.

Including nutritional information empowers choice. That is a good thing. But having the state try to regulate portion sizes and dictate food composition is barking mad. These researchers seem to think that individual choice and consequences have no role in society.

Over 20 years I became very large. This was not due to advertising, or sugar in fizzy drinks or anything like that. It was simply because I ate too much food. It wasn’t the type of food as much as the amount of food. And then a couple of years I lost most of it by simply eating less and exercising more. It is that simple. Not easy, but simple.

In New Zealand, politicians remained cowed by Big Food, she said. In deprived towns and suburbs, fast food outlets were so numerous as to be unavoidable.

So effing what? It isn’t compulsory to go in. And even if you do, one can actually get quite healthy food in them. It’s about balance, not about banning food.

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No obesity in North Korea!

February 6th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A link exists between a country’s economic freedom, fast-food purchases, and obesity, researchers say.

Their results fit New Zealand, among other countries, they said.

The World Health Organisation has used the study as another opportunity to call for governments to take action to “reverse the obesity epidemic by hindering the spread of ultra-processed foodstuffs”.

The authors used data on the number of fast-food transactions per capita from 1999 to 2008 in 25 high-income countries and compared that with figures on body mass index (BMI) in the same countries over the same period.

A report of the study, published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organisation, said the work showed that countries adopting market-liberal policies had faster increases in both fast-food consumption and mean BMI.

The average number of fast-food transactions per capita per year increased for all 25 countries in the study, with the 10.1 transactions per capita increase in New Zealand the fourth highest.

Canada (16.6), Australia (14.7) and Ireland (12.3) had larger increases.

According to the OECD, New Zealand has the fourth-highest rate of obesity among members of the organisation, with 27.8 per cent of the population aged 15 and above rated as obese, based on BMI figures.

New Zealand was also ranked fifth in the 2014 index of economic freedom published by US think tank The Heritage Foundation.

So destroy capitalism and you solve obesity. This is probably right. When did you last see an obese North Korean (except for their leaders)?

And think of all those countries in Africa with no economic freedom. No fatties there either. A few million may die from lack of food, but at least no one is obese.

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Shearer gets it – partially

January 23rd, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

David Shearer writes in the Herald:

My research took me to a wonderful school, Owairaka District School, where 8-year-old students served me a lunch of vegetarian pizza from their own pizza oven, salad from their garden, and muffins made with eggs from their chickens and honey from their hives.

Owairaka is a decile 2 school but the children are kept nourished and learning through this innovative garden-to-table programme.

But more critically, they are picking up the lifetime skills of gardening and food preparation – and they are doing it alongside family and community volunteers who also benefit.

It’s win, win, win – so much better than a hand-out for the kids – and it raised a question I have grappled with since my bill was drawn.

Is it right to impose a one-size-fits-all solution on to every low-decile school in the form of a food hand-out?

No. It is excellent a Labour MP sees this. Better late than never.

My fear is that we will institutionalise dependence through relying solely on a feeding programme. We need to be far more forward-looking.


There’s another critical need for a programme focused on nutrition. New Zealand has 275,000 overweight and obese children. Surely part of what we are teaching – in a practical way – should be around nutrition and good foods to eat.

There are two issues here – obesity and kids going to school without breakfast.

The latter is basically due to bad parenting. It costs just 39 cents  a day to give a child weetbix and milk for breakfast. If a kid is going to school without breakfast, it is not because of lack of money. Low income families get an extra $65 per week per child (plus up to $152 a week for the first child) to help cover the costs of a child.

Nutrition is an important issue, and educating kids on nutrition is worthwhile. Educating parents probably more so. But this can take many forms. I know scores of people who use smartphone apps to check nutritional content of food, and make decisions based on it.

Unfortunately, our current Government has done the opposite. In 2009, then Education Minister Anne Tolley removed the national guidelines to schools which stated that only healthy options should be available where food and beverages are sold at schools.

Sigh, now back to being the food police.  Almost no food in moderation is inherently unhealthy. Trying to categorise foods into always good and always bad is simplistic.

My bill originally aimed to legislate for food to be available in every decile 1, 2 and 3 school that wants it, so poorer communities can have confidence their children won’t be hungry at school.

That’s a start, but I’m going back to the drawing board so we can address the issues of nutrition and encourage self-reliance. We have lost the basic skills of how to garden and provide for ourselves.

So my aim is that my Food in Schools Bill will put resources into schools to help teach those simple skills, and enable kids to eat the food they grow themselves and understand a healthy diet.

Sounds an improvement. But to be honest the elephant in the room is the parents. If the parents do not understand nutrition and a healthy diet, then expecting teachers to change the eating habits of kids is a big ask.

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Ryall says no to nanny state

December 16th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

New Zealand is getting fatter – with three in every 10 adults now regarded as obese.

A leading diabetes researcher has called the new figures alarming and has accused the Government of failing to take the problem seriously.

However, Health Minister Tony Ryall has rejected “nanny state” measures, instead arguing that providing information and support to people is enough.

“In the end, the Government can pass all the laws it likes but unless people eat less and exercise more, things won’t change,” Mr Ryall said yesterday in response to the new figures.

Exactly. The Government’s role is to inform and support, not dictate and ban.

The Government focus for new nutrition programmes has been on mothers and babies. It is also spending more on screening for diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and on providing more “green prescriptions”, in which GPs and nurses encourage patients to get more exercise and improve their diet. Some health advocates have called for more radical action, including taxing sugary drinks and fatty foods.

The one and only fat tax implemented in the world was a disaster that was scrapped after barely a year. But that doesn’t stop the advocates.

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$5 million to tell us kids see lots of adverts

November 9th, 2013 at 11:31 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

New Zealand children will wear cameras in a world-first study to monitor the daily advertising bombardment of junk food and other unhealthy products.

More than 200 schoolchildren will be equipped with tiny video cameras that they will carry for a year.

The study follows a pilot survey that revealed an assault of promotions on billboards, shelters, dairies and the back of buses.

Researchers hope the results will be used to help formulate health policy in a country where the obesity rate among children aged between 5 and 11 jumped from 8 to 11 per cent in just six years.

With 99.9% confidence I can predict the proposed policy will be to ban advertising of foods that our health overlords deem bad for us.

Part of a $5 million collaborative programme between Otago University and Victoria University researchers, the study will produce millions of images to be analysed using a computer algorithm.

$5 million to produce shock horror headlines that kids see 27,526 advertisements a year for food, and the inevitable conclusion than advertising of non-approved foods must be banned.

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Achtung – sugar must be banned

November 5th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Yeah I know I am Godwining myself, but I couldn’t help it.

Check out the website Fizz. They aim to ban all soft drinks in New Zealand with sugar in them!!

We are a group of researchers and public health doctors who have come together to advocate for ending the sale of sugar sweetened beverages (sugary drinks) from New Zealand.

I’m all for informing people that drinking 10 litres of Coke a day isn’t the best idea in the world. But when these lobbyists start trying to ban things, that’s when they become health n***s.  They just do not think we as adult individuals should be allowed to make choices for ourselves.

Personally I don’t drink many sugary beverages, but fuck it if I want to have a glass of fanta at a birthday party, then who the hell are they to say this should be banned.

Dr Sundborn is also planning a conference in which experts will share their views about the harm from excess sugar intake and propose strategies to eliminate the products from sale in New Zealand.

They just never stop. I can accept public health arguments over supply and marketing of tobacco as that is quite unique. But the problem is they use the precedents from tobacco, and then try to apply it to alcohol, then sugary drinks, and then no doubt chocolate easter eggs one day.

We believe that sugary drinks are likely to be addictive, like coffee, alcohol and cigarettes

Coffee will be next on their hit list!

Their about section on the website is blank, but I bet you bottom dollar that 95% of them are on the taxpayer payroll, and our taxes are paying for this little lobby group – directly or indirectly. Their symposium appears to be funded by Auckland and Otago universities.

I have no problem with research into the ill effects of too much sugar. Don’t even have a problem with some educational programmes. But when they advocate for the banning of foods and drinks they disagree with, that is when the taxpayer should say we’re not paying the bill. Looks like the Health Research Council is also funding this symposium which aims to ban soft drinks from New Zealand. Outrageous.


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Much better than trying to ban things

October 14th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Natalie Akoorie in NZ Herald reports:

Analysis of a healthy eating and activity programme first tested in Waikato primary schools shows the project is saving taxpayer money and improving children’s lives.

The obesity research findings show Project Energize will improve the health and quality of life of the 44,000 children involved.

The data, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, showed the prevalence of obesity among all children involved was 15 per cent less than for Waikato children not in the programme in 2004 and 2006.

Children participating in Project Energize could run 550m 10 per cent faster than children from another region and their body mass index was reduced by 3 per cent.

The project, where a team of 27 “energizers” train school teachers and children in healthy eating and activities across Waikato primary schools, began in 2004. The annual $2 million programme is funded by Waikato District Health Board and implemented by Sport Waikato.

Its success has seen the programme introduced to more schools in Franklin and Northland, and the Ministry of Health has committed $1.1 million to extend it to 100 preschools and 4000 more Waikato children. …

The programme cost around $45 a child, “less than the cost of one visit to a doctor”.

I like this programme for three reasons:

  • It is aimed at education, not taking away choice
  • It targets both physical activity and eating – not just food as the health n***s do
  • It is cost-effective

I’d much rather we focus on programmes like this than trying to ban pies in tuck shops, ban certain food outlets from certain areas, ban advertising, ban packaging etc etc.


Treating sugar like tobacco

September 22nd, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Sugar-sweetened beverages should be regulated like tobacco as a first step to combating New Zealand’s obesity epidemic, the Public Health Association Conference was told today in New Plymouth.

Gerhard Sundborn, from Auckland University, has proposed an ‘end-game’ strategy for sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) in New Zealand.

There seems no end to the desire of some people to remove all choice in people’s lives. Now they want to eliminate soda drinks.

Can you just imagine it as their ideas get hold. You bring a small bottle of coke to work and you’re told that you can’t drink it inside. Then in a few years you’re having a coke in a park, and you get told you can’t drink coke in a park as it may get seen by a kid and influence them.

Eventually they ban the consumption of soda drinks in bars and restaurants, and of course all soda drinks are sold in plain packaging and advertising has long been banned of them.

All this to because the master class know what is good for us, and must protect us from our own choices.

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A good move

July 24th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Coca-Cola plans to start displaying the calories in its products on vending machines as a way of fighting obesity.

The beverage giant announced tonight it was was “joining the front line” in the fight against obesity with a campaign set to launch tomorrow.

As part of the campaign, it will place transparent nutritional information in more places, including vending machines, and increase the availability of small bottles like its 300ml soft drink range.

It will also offer a wider selection of low-calorie products and help get people moving by supporting physical activity programmes.

I hate nanny state anti-obesity measures around banning certain foods from tuck-shops, advertising restrictions etc. But something I am passionate on is food and drinks showing the number of calories they have. This allows us adults to make informed choices.

I think alcohol should have calorie labels, and also retail food outlets should have available calorie counts for their food, should people request it.

People would be amazed at how much weight you can lose by simply being more knowledgeable about how many calories are in what you drink or eat.

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The Danish fat tax

May 27th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Paul Walker blogs a summary of a new report by Christopher Snowdon on The Proof of the Pudding: Denmark’s fat tax fiasco. The findings are:

  • Denmark’s tax on saturated fat was hailed as a world-leading public health policy when it was introduced in October 2011, but it was abandoned fifteen months later when the unintended consequences became clear. This paper examines how a policy went from having almost unanimous parliamentary support to becoming ‘an unbearable burden’ on the Danish people.
  • The economic effects of the fat tax were almost invariably negative. It was blamed for helping inflation rise to 4.7 per cent in a year in which real wages fell by 0.8 per cent. Many Danes switched to cheaper brands or went over the border to Sweden and Germany to do their shopping. At least ten per cent of fat tax revenues were swallowed up in administrative costs and it was estimated to have cost 1,300 Danish jobs.
  • The fat tax had a very limited impact on the consumption of ‘unhealthy’ foods. One survey found that only seven per cent of the population reduced the amount of butter, cream and cheese they bought and another survey found that 80 per cent of Danes did not change their shopping habits at all.
  • The fat tax was always controversial and it became increasingly unpopular as time went on. Objections came not just from business owners, but also from trade unions, politicians, journalists and the general public. It was widely criticised across the political spectrum for making the poor poorer. By October 2012, 70 per cent of Danes considered the tax to be ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’ and newspapers routinely described it as ‘infamous’, ‘maligned’ and ‘hated’. Mette Gjerskov, the minister for food, agriculture and fisheries, admitted in late 2012: ‘The fat tax is one of the most criticised policies we have had in a long time.’
  • Denmark’s fat tax remains the leading example of an ambitious anti-obesity policy being tested in the real world. The results failed to match the predictions of the health lobby’s computer models and the failed experiment has since been largely swept under the carpet in public health circles. Ultimately, Danish politicians weighed the negligible health benefits against the demonstrable social and economic costs and swiftly abandoned it. Few mourn its passing.
  • The economic and political failure of the fat tax provides important lessons for policy-makers who are considering ‘health-related’ taxes on fat, sugar, ‘junk food’ and fizzy drinks in the UK and elsewhere. As other studies have concluded, the effect of such policies on calorie consumption and obesity is likely to be minimal. These taxes are highly regressive, economically inefficient and widely unpopular. Although they remain popular with many health campaigners, this may be because, as one Danish journalist noted, ‘doctors don’t need to get re-elected.’

There are lessons from this regarding all sorts of targeted taxes. They can sound great in theory, but can be a disaster in practice.

Hat Tip: Whale

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They want the soda size limit here also

March 15th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Martin Johnston at NZ Herald reports:

Obesity experts in New Zealand are dismayed at the legal clamp slapped on New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s law to ban super-sized sugary soft drinks in restaurants.

They should have a large soda to drown their sorrows.

His law would have limited cups of sugary soft drinks sold at restaurants, cinemas and other food service establishments to 453ml.

That is approaching close to two standard measuring cups (500ml) and is well short of the large and super-sized sugar drinks sold in New Zealand fast-food shops.

McDonald’s “large” soft drinks contain 651ml and the biggest offering at Wendy’s is around 1200ml, although Wendy’s says it doesn’t sell many of these mega-drinks.

How evil. They must be banned, along with large easter eggs.

Fight the Obesity Epidemic spokeswoman Dr Robyn Toomath said it was a great shame the mayor’s bid to help halt the growth of New Yorkers’ waistlines had been thwarted.

Yes it is a great shame that human beings have been allowed to choose for themselves what size drink they want. We must protect them from themselves.


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Nanny state charging ahead

March 12th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

A terrifying op ed in the NY Daily News by a Marion Nestle:

Barring any late legal surprises, Mayor Bloomberg’s 16-ounce cap on sugary sodas goes into effect on Tuesday, March 12. After that, restaurants, movie theaters, sports venues and food carts will not be permitted to sell extra-large portions of sugar-packed drinks.

Stay calm. This does not signal the end of democracy in America. This is not the nanny state gone out of control.

Actually is is the precise definition of nanny state out of control.

If we want Americans to be healthy, we are going to have to take actions like this – and many more – and do so soon. It’s long past time to tax sugar soda, crack down further on what gets sold in our schools, tackle abusive marketing practices, demand a redesign of labels – and extend the soda cap, no matter how controversial it may seem. This must be the beginning, not the end, of efforts toward a healthier America.

Be scared, be very scared

I’m amazed she doesn’t just advocate making soda drinks illegal.

The soda size cap is a nudge in that direction. You will still be able to drink all the soda, and down all the sugar, that you want. The cap on soda size makes it just a tiny bit harder for you to do so.

That “tiny bit harder” is its point. If you have to order two sodas instead of one, maybe you won’t. If you have to add sugar to your coffee drink yourself, maybe you will only add one or two teaspoons instead of the 10 or more someone else put in there for you.

Oh, so she also wants it to be illegal to sell coffee with sugar in it?

So-called “nanny-state” measures – like bans on driving while drunk, smoking in public places and, now, selling absurdly large sugary drinks – help to level the playing field. Such measures are about giving everyone an equal opportunity to live a safer and healthier life.

Again, she can’t see any difference between measures about preventing harm to others (killing people while drink driving, passive smoking effects) and measures to control how people live their own lives.

Fix the price differential. A 7.5-ounce can of soda costs twice as much per ounce as a two-liter bottle, and you can’t buy just one; it comes in an 8-pack. Price determines sales. If a 16-ounce soda costs a dollar, a 32-ounce soda should cost two dollars.

They should also abolish large chocolate bars being not the same price per kg as small chocolate bars. In fact let’s just regulate all food pricing. No volume discounts for any food except broccoli.

Actions like these will evoke ferocious opposition from the soda industry, and it will spare no expense to make sure such things never happen. We would surely hear more and more howls of “nanny-state” from those who insist Bloomberg has led us to the brink of a public health police state. Polls say that many New Yorkers oppose the 16-ounce cap and would oppose measures like this, too.

But I can’t tell whether the opposition comes from genuine concern about limits on personal choice or because soda companies have spent millions of dollars to protect their interests and gin up histrionic, misinformed opposition.

That’s easy. Its is genuine concern about personal choice – something that the author seems to regard as having no weight at all.

Hat Tip: Eric Crampton

UPDATE: Great news. A Judge has invalidated the ban on large soda drinks. The NY Post reports:

“[The city] is enjoined and permanently restrained from implementing or enforcing the new regulations,” New York Supreme Court Judge Milton Tingling ruled.

The judge said Bloomberg and the Board of Health overstepped their bounds, to enforce rules that should be established by the legislative bodies.

“The rule would not only violate the separation of powers doctrine, it would eviscerate it,” Tingling wrote. “Such an evisceration has the potential to be more troubling than sugar sweetened drinks.”

“It is arbitrary and capricious because it applies to some but not all food establishments in the city, it excludes other beverages that have significantly higher concentrations of sugar sweeteners and/or calories on suspect grounds, and the loopholes inherent in the rule, including but not limited to no limitations on refills, defeat and/or serve to gut the purpose of the rule,” Tingling wrote.

The regulations are “fraught with arbitrary and capricious consequences,” the judge wrote.

A defeat for the nanny statists. But they will try again and again.

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A sugar free NZ

March 6th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Joe Bennett writes in the Dom Post:

Boffins at the University of Otago have tested the blood of 3000 randomly chosen people over the age of 15.

Seven per cent of them had diabetes. That’s over 200 people. A further 18 per cent had early signs of diabetes. That’s over 500 people. Together, they’re more than a quarter of the people tested. That’s an epidemic.

Meanwhile, across the ocean at the University of California, more boffins have been bent over the test tubes and the stats. As you’d expect, their study dwarfed the local one.

They analysed the incidence of diabetes in 175 countries. Effectively that means everywhere. And they found that if the amount of sugar in a national food supply goes up, so does the incidence of diabetes. …

As for education, every youth in the country has been bombarded with dietary advice from here to my Aunt Fanny. They’ve been told about five-plus-a-day, the evils of burgers, the wonder of veges, the joys of exercise and the way to radiant health. The result: the chubbiest generation in the history of our species.

So, if people cannot be taught to do themselves good, they will have to be forced. We need to set a date by which New Zealand shall be sugar-free: 2025 feels about right. Then we need to work towards it.

Bennett is being satirical, but I suspect there lobby groups will soon be pushing for this!

Money’s always a good place to start. There needs to be a tax on sugar, a tax that rises automatically and drastically at the start of every year. That’ll get them yelping.

Next comes plain packaging. We all know the sophistication of the marketing buggers, how they hook kids on to brands by association. Well, brands will be dead.

In the fizzy-drinks business, for example, there’ll be no more Pepsi or Coke or Fanta or Mountain Bloody Dew, with their pretty colours and their brand insignia. No, they’ll all just come in plain metal tubes labelled “Flavoured Sugar-laden Poison”.

Schools will become sugar-free zones. In the period before abolition, lollies will be hidden from view in dairies and sold only to over-18s. Anyone supplying sugar to minors will be liable to a fine or a term of imprisonment.

Parents eating icecream in front of their kids won’t just get a finger-wagging. They’ll have their kids taken into care. And it will all be enforced by us, the sugar cops.

Joe shouldn’t write the Green Party manifesto for them!

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Nanny New York

February 26th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar



The New York Post reports:

Nanny Bloomberg unleashes his ban on large sodas on March 12 — and there are some nasty surprises lurking for hardworking families.

Say goodbye to that 2-liter bottle of Coke with your pizza delivery, pitchers of soft drinks at your kid’s birthday party and some bottle-service mixers at your favorite nightclub.

They’d violate Mayor Bloomberg’s new rules, which prohibit eateries from serving or selling sugary drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces.

Absolute fucking madness.

This is what some taxpayer funded lobby groups push for in New Zealand. It isn’t the thin end of the wedge – it is the thick end.

Typically, a pizzeria charges $3 for a 2-liter bottle of Coke. But under the ban, customers would have to buy six 12-ounce cans at a total cost of $7.50 to get an equivalent amount of soda.

Imagine how many cans you will need to drink 10 litres a day!

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Weight and death

January 5th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reported:

Obese most likely to die early but those classed as overweight have better survival rate.

For older people, body weight could be a positive sign of being well-nourished. Photo / Getty Images

Overweight people have surprisingly beaten out your normal Joe Average on the mortality scale, a statistical survey of medical studies has shown – despite a well-established link between weight and sickness.

When talking of health, “death is a rather crude tool”, said Auckland District Health Board clinical director Robyn Toomath, who is sceptical of the paper.

Death may be a crude tool, but it is a pretty important one. It is one that public health advocates use all the time in campaigns about the dangers of smoking for example (which I agree with them on).

The best way to reduce public health costs for the country was still to help people eat healthy and stay slim, by restricting the marketing and value of junk foods or promoting nutritious foods, she said.

No, the best way for people to stay slim is for them to eat less and exercise more. Nanny state policies to “restrict” the marketing of certain foods should be resisted at every stage.


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The obesity conference

October 22nd, 2012 at 12:48 pm by David Farrar

Marika Hill at Stuff reports:

University of Auckland associate professor Cliona Ni Mhurchu said consumers were often left baffled by food labelling and struggled to make informed health choices.

Relying on people to exercise self control was not working, she added.

“We’ve failed because our focus is on the individual to make healthy choices.”

Yeah if people make bad choices, we must do something about it. Or not.

She called for a large-scale trial of either traffic lights or a star-rating food system, which would rate food based on health factors.

Star-rating labels in parts of the United State saw a significant increase in people buying healthy food, she said.

As a general rule transparency is a good thing. When I purchase food now, I religiously read the nutritional information box.

However things are not always simple. For example alcohol does not have these boxes. The reason, as I understand it, is because on most of the measures listed such as fats it comes up really well, so people may think alcohol is healthier than it really is.

There may be a halfway measure where the calorie count only is included on alcohol. I noticed in Australia that shops serving  fresh food tend to include the calorie count with the food. Not sure if this is required or voluntary, but I for one found it useful being able to compare the calorie counts of say different pastas as the airport.

The controversial fat-tax was also debated at the obesity conference.

Professor Wayne Cutfield, director of the Liggins Institute in Auckland, said the world’s first fat and sugar tax failed to make its mark in Denmark.

In January, the Danish Government introduced higher taxes on beer, wine, chocolate, candy, sodas and cream.

However, the Government was now reviewing the fat-tax following an outcry over manufacturing job losses and shoppers buying bad food across the country’s borders.

I’m not surprised. Just as banning school tuckshops from selling certain foods just drove kids across the street. Them the health police want to ban certain foods from 500 metres of a school. Eventually they’ll propose a Government set menu for the entire country.

Food and Grocery Council chief executive Katherine Rich said the obesity epidemic was a complex issue that could not be solved by over-simplified food labels or slapping a tax on unhealthy food.

“There has to be common sense about these issues.

“You can’t pass laws to make people eat healthy.”

And unhealthy food often costs more than healthy food. It is about education and responsible parenting and self-control.


Fast food is not compulsory

February 7th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Jessica Tasman-Jones reports at Stuff:

Health authorities are calling on the council to stop the spread of fast food outlets in some of Auckland’s poorest suburbs in an effort to fight obesity.

According to the Auckland Regional Public Heath Service (ARPHS), there are more fast food outlets and less grocers and supermarkets in poor neighbourhoods.

The opposite is true for Auckland’s more affluent suburbs.

According to the ARPHS submission to the draft Auckland Plan, around 70 per cent of the city’s homes are within 1km of a takeaway shop.

That climbs to at least 90 per cent in wards like Otara-Papatoetoe and Mangere-Otahuhu.

ARPHS says it wants to see council restrict new fast food outlets across Auckland while seeking ways to increase food outlets with healthy food like supermarkets and grocers.

Those evil fish and chip shops, chinese takeaways, subways, hell pizza outlets etc must be stopped. We must not allow people to choose for themselves what food to eat, and suffer the consequences of bad choices.

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Weigh more, pay more on flights?

January 15th, 2012 at 1:47 pm by David Farrar

Travelmole reports:

A former Qantas group chief economist says people who weigh more should pay more to fly on planes.

Writing for Business Day in Fairfax newspapers, Tony Webber, now managing director of Webber Quantitative Consulting and Associate Professor at the University of Sydney Business School, claims fuel burnt by planes depends on many things “but the most important is the weight of the aircraft. The more a plane weighs, the more fuel it must burn”.

Webber said if passengers on the aircraft weigh more, the aircraft consumes more fuel and the airline’s costs go up.

In turn, the airline would need to lift airfares to recover the additional costs. And when they did, the burden of the higher fees should not be lumbered “on those who are shedding a few kilos or keeping their weight stable”.

Webber said airline fuel costs have increased since 2000 not just because of higher oil and jet fuel prices…”but also because the average adult passenger is carrying a bit more heft”.

Between 1926 and 2008, the average weight of an Aussie female adult increased from 59 kilograms to 71 kilos and the average weight of an Aussie male adult increased from 72 to 85 kilos, according to Webber.

I agree. If you pay more for extra weight in your baggage, you should pay more for extra weight on your person. It will also provide a good extra incentive to lose weight.

There would be some practicalities, but if you just get people to select a weight group upon booking most would do so honestly. I don’t think you need to weigh people upon check in.