Should the nanny state cap your calories?

Eugenie Joseph

18 January 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

After a summer break filled with well-earned indulgence, you may be starting your New Year’s resolution to diet.

But it could soon be the government’s responsibility to control your calorie intake — if we’re inclined to play copy-cat on a ludicrous proposal under consideration by the British government to cap the number of calories in restaurant meals and ready-made meals from supermarkets.

Hilariously, even a benign-sounding tuna and cucumber sandwich sold by the Sainsbury’s supermarket chain would become illegal under the scheme — as it would top the mandated 550 calorie limit.

But while it is tempting to joke about the idea, if it’s implemented in Britain, it is certain the health lobby will turn its sights on Australia.

After all, Australia tends to adopt Britain’s policies as quickly as their BBC costume dramas. A tax on sugary drinks — another poorly-targeted policy introduced in Britain last year — has been the subject of ongoing debate in Australia.

Of course, obesity is a serious problem in many developed nations — including Australia — but the causes are complex and the solutions are not straightforward.

More than 5 million Australians are now classified as obese. And obesity places a strain on our health system, with taxpayers bearing much of the cost of treatments for related problems like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

But there is little evidence that capping calories in meals would be worth the huge regulatory cost to the food and restaurant industries.

After all, capping calories does nothing to directly prevent people from consuming too much; a pea-sized pizza could simply be followed by a mega Mars bar.

Furthermore, obesity is sadly more prevalent in lower socio-economic households — who are less likely to afford expensive restaurant meals. So why make the whole restaurant industry pay for a poorly-targeted policy?

If governments feel compelled to combat obesity, they should at least focus their policies directly on children at risk, as childhood is often where lasting food and exercise habits are formed.

But don’t be surprised if by next New Year, dining out is a lot less fun.

 

 

 

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