Canadian doctors aim to stem their country’s obesity epidemic in a radical new way: Copying anti-smoking campaigns. They have suggested slapping threatening labels on pizzas, soda drinks and other junk food, warning of the diseases they might cause.
The Ontario Medical Association (OMA) unveiled several mock-ups on Tuesday to promote their plan, including a pizza box with a picture of a liver discolored by fatty liver disease, a child's juice box featuring a photo of a foot affected by diabetic ulcers and other similarly grotesque warnings.
“The recommendations… may appear radical to some, but the urgency of our situation demands aggressive action,” the OMA announced at the event. “The lessons learned from the strategies of the tobacco-control movement should be applied to the fight against obesity.”
Doctors proposed several other measures to control obesity rates: Higher taxes on junk food and lower taxes on healthy products; putting health warnings on vendor displays; restrictions on marketing and sales in stores visited by children.
OMA President Doug Weir said that obesity-related diseases are already costing Ontario $2.2 to $2.5 billion a year. In Canada, 31.5 percent of children and teens are overweight or obese, the OMA reported.
The Ontario government, which has the authority to enact the OMA’s suggestions, said they would consider their opinions and refrained from commenting further.
An industry association spoke out forcefully against the controversial propositions.
“Food is not tobacco. Tobacco has no place in a healthy, balanced lifestyle. A tax on food and beverages is nothing but a tax grab that will hurt lower- and middle-income Ontarians the most,” Phyllis Tanaka, a Vice President of Food and Consumer Products Canada (FCPC) said in a statement.
“I think it’s shocking that medical doctors would be comparing food to tobacco,” fellow FCPC Vice President Derek Nighbor told the National Post newspaper. “They’re demonizing individual products and certain categories, and they’re ignoring the overall balanced diet message, which I think is seriously irresponsible.”
Promoting a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle would be more effective than “over-the-top” labels, Nighbor added.
In 2000, Canada became the first country to force cigarette makers to have labels featuring gruesome and explicit images of rotting gums and emaciated cancer patients. Several other countries have since adopted the approach. The United States, however, ruled that the visuals were an unfair attempt to manipulate consumers into quitting.