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Taxing time for chocolate...But our medics reject proposed price hike to combat obesity

By Emily Moulton

Doctors' leaders in Northern Ireland would rather see price promotions for fruit and vegetables as a means to curb the growing rise of obesity in the province rather than a tax on chocolate.

Yesterday Scottish GP David Walker called for taxes to be implemented on chocolate products similar to those imposed on cigarettes and alcohol in a bid to tackle the problem and reduce the increase of associated diseases such as type two diabetes.

He argued many people ate their entire daily calorie requirement in chocolate on top of their normal meals, and that chocolate was once a ‘treat’ but had now become a harmful addiction for some.

He explained — ahead of a medical conference in Glasgow yesterday which rejected Dr Walker’s taxes call — that any revenue raised from the taxes should be used by the NHS to deal with health problems and that extra money raised could be spent on increasing and improving sports facilities.

“Obesity is a mushrooming problem,” he told the BBC. “We are heading the same way as the United States.

“There is an explosion of obesity and the related medical conditions, like type two diabetes. I see chocolate as a major player in this and I think a tax on products containing chocolate could make a real difference.”

A spokeswoman from the British Medical Association (BMA) in Northern Ireland said the suggestion to levy a tax on chocolate as a way of tackling the obesity crisis highlighted the frustration of doctors “who saw, on a daily basis, the increasing levels of obesity, particularly in cldren, and the subsequent impact on their health”.

Obesity is a |mushrooming problem here. We are heading the same way as the United States

However, she said the medical body supported other measures to tackle the obesity problem which were presented to the Stormont Health Committee yesterday.

“Comparing a tax on chocolate to cigarettes and alcohol is not a good parallel,” she explained. “There is no benefit to smoking, but everyone needs to eat.

“Some foods are better to eat regularly than others, and education of children and their parents should be made a priority to enable them to make better choices about what food they should eat.

“Chocolate as an occasional treat is not in itself ‘bad’.

“However, if children are having chocolate and crisps in their lunchbox every day instead of more nutritious alternatives, then this would cause concern in terms of the number of ‘empty calories’ being consumed.”

Yesterday, the BMA put forward recommendations to the ongoing obesity inquiry at Stormont.

Besides preferring to see price promotions for healthier foods in supermarkets, the medical body would also like supermarkets reduce the costs of healthier foods such as fruit and vegetables.

It wants more emphasis to be placed on how families can produce healthy meals on a budget; increased access to subsidised sporting facilities for both children and their parents; a ban on advertising unhealthy foods, including inappropriate sponsorship programmes targeted at children, and accurate food labelling and clear information to enable the general public to make informed choices about their diet.

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