Dr. Doug Weir, president of Ontario Medical Association
Credits: JOEL BOYCE/QMI AGENCY
TORONTO -- Ontario's doctors are calling for higher taxes and graphic warning labels on junk food to combat childhood obesity.
The Ontario Medical Association (OMA) unveiled "aggressive new measures" Tuesday to combat what it is calling an "epidemic in the province" when it comes to overweight and obese children. According to the OMA, almost 32% of kids in Canada are overweight or obese -- up from 26% in the 1980s.
The association plans to present the province with several recommendations, including the placement of warning labels on foods deemed fattening and lacking nutritional value, a heightened tax on such food, a tax decrease on foods deemed healthy, restrictions in the marketing of junk food to kids, and limiting access to such food in recreational facilities.
OMA president Dr. Doug Weir said he hopes this will lower obesity rates the way taxation and warnings on cigarette packages have helped lead to a more than 30% decrease in smoking since the 1960s.
The federal government forced cigarette makers about 13 years ago to place pictures of diseased gums and gaunt-looking cancer patients on tobacco packages.
Weir, a child psychiatrist, said he's well aware there will be groups in the food industry that will be upset by these proposed measures.
"We are raising a generation of children that will suffer from devastating and preventable diseases, overwhelm the (health-care) system and die prematurely," he said, adding that obesity costs the province as much as $2.5 billion annually.
"The time for gentle admonitions has come and gone. We need to fight this problem with proven tools like tax incentives and graphic warnings."
The OMA is compiling a list of what it considers junk food and "healthy" food, and will present it to the provincial government as part of its proposition, a spokesman later said.
But Gregory Thomas of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says doctors are way off base in suggesting a tax hike on any kind of food would be good for the public.
"These new taxes amount to quack economics," Thomas said in a statement, adding similar legislation in Denmark has led to job losses and increased cross-border food shopping in Germany.
"Special taxes on food hurt everyone. (They) hurt marathoners who enjoy sports drinks and they hurt single parents who treat their kids to (a) Coke and a bag of chips once in a while. Food taxes don't address the root causes of obesity and bad nutrition."