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War on obesity has fat chance of success
Written By Charles Adler
Ontario doctors have launched an attack this week. And no, it's not about health-care reform. Not about wait lists or rationing services. Not about death boards or meddling bureaucracy. This week, the Ontario Medical Association declared a "war on obesity." And who are the enemies in this war? Well, the people of Ontario, and their freedom to decide what they eat.

How are they fighting this war? Well, they have a new ad campaign, featuring graphic warnings to be placed on food items that doctors don't like. Just as cigarette packages now feature disturbing images and warning logos to deter people from making bad choices, Ontario doctors want warnings on high-calorie, low-nutritional value foods in an attempt to fight obesity.

And they're not stopping there. They are lobbying the government for higher taxes on "bad" foods and lower taxes on "good" food. They're calling for restricted sales of junk food and sugary drinks.

Doctors are waging this campaign because they are experts and want people to live healthier lives. Doesn't sound so bad, right?

The problem is their self-righteous scheme takes away individual choice and freedom. What we eat is the most basic of freedoms. And this campaign aims right at the heart of this basic right.

People have choices and must make decisions. Sometimes these decisions are tough. Sometimes people make bad choices. Choices that are not optimal, for themselves or the public good. But they must live with the consequences of their actions. Taking away this freedom to choose makes us a little more complacent, a little more docile and a little less free.

I’m sure the doctors don't see it this way. They look at the costs. The OMA estimates that extra health-care costs attributed to obesity cost taxpayers up to $2.5 billion a year in Ontario.

That's the basic problem with having government-owned health care. Since we all pay into the system, we all pay for the bad choices of others. That's the problem with socialism. The government takes care of our health and our wellness, they own a piece of us and can make these kinds of authoritarian decisions. Decisions about what we can and cannot do with our own bodies.

On a practical level, this initiative falls flat. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation points out that there were no peer-review papers and no real-world examples where food taxes have changed behaviour. In fact, they point to a D.C. think-tank which found that a 20-cent tax on a 75-cent soft drink resulted in the Body Mass Index of an obese person decline from 40 to 39.98.

Denmark tried a "junk food tax" in 2001. The result? Disastrous economic consequences.

Food manufacturers fled, jobs were shipped across the border, and no positive health outcomes were measured. It's just not worth it. Yes, health is important. Families should try to teach their children about nutrition and good health. Social campaigns and ads encouraging people to exercise and eat vegetables are great. Athletes and Olympians are championed, and continue to be our society’s greatest role models.

If the OMA wants to take out private ads, that's fine. When they get into meddling with laws and taxes, it's a different story.