“Profits are an important driver of innovation…[but]…We have to ask ourselves as a society have we gone too far and allowed profits that are too great that come at the expense of so many?”
– Dr Vinay Prasad
So when we are talking the cause of the obesity epidemic we have to look at our social, economic and political systems. The food and drink industries that sell unhealthy high-calorie food that is slowly killing us are making enormous profits whilst we and the health system pay for it and suffer. There are enormous lobbying and pressure from them on our governments to stop any reform so this makes it harder for you to live a healthy life. They make money and the health system gets overloaded and we suffer, that’s the short version. I won’t go into this now, I only raise the point often overweight people are blamed for being overweight, rather than considering the system and environment in which people became overweight and thinking about improving that. So if you want to do something about it – get active and tell your government and businesses.
Some say “what’s wrong with this? We have the freedom to choose and they are allowed to make money”. I agree that we should be allowed to make money and choose. But at what cost? Companies spend almost $600 billion a year on marketing products to us – they know it works to influence our decisions. It is not an even playing field, it is not a simple 50:50 yes or no decision. They are the ones studying brain scans and our psychology so they can understand exactly why you buy what you buy and can influence you to buy more whether you need it or it is good for you or not. This is a major source of research funding, that is to make you want something you never really wanted.
In theory, governments should keep an eye on this to make sure business can succeed but does not make profits at the cost of the public good. However, it is no secret that our politicians are being lobbied by certain industries to prevent any threat to their power and profits. I have posted an article below showing how these industries praise themselves when they repeatedly prevent politicians making a difference that will impact their profits.
For example, there have been repeated pushes from health bodies to create a sugar tax. This essentially means companies which put sugar in products have to pay the government money which can then in theory help pay the healthcare costs needed to cover the disease caused by that sugar. But the sugar-based industries like soft drink bodies are massively opposing this, paying millions of dollars to people to lobby our politicians. This is similar to how the tobacco companies fought against any changes that might upset their profits. We knew tobacco caused cancer in the 1950s, but it took 40-50 years before any major changes to tobacco advertising and taxes were brought in because of this persistent financial lobbying. The same thing is happening now with sugar and unhealthy foods.
We know a sugar tax can work. Mexico introduced a 10% tax on sugary drinks in 2014 and saw a 12 per cent reduction in sugar consumption over the first year. Hungary brought in a tax on the drinks companies and saw a 40% decrease in the amount of sugar in the products. It is estimated that after a sugar tax was active for 25 years, Australians would enjoy about 170,000 healthy life years that they would not have otherwise.
So again this shows you that the reasons for your weight are so much more profound than just calories. And if we want to see real change on a big scale – we just have to follow the money.