Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Junk Food Jury 2

I hope you have been paying attention to your junk food intake during the holiday season. Why do I care? I don’t really.

But just because I think it is a personal choice and responsibility what you eat, that does not mean everyone else does.

The Ontario Medical Association (OMA), infinitely wise, and powerful, has pronounced on junk food. Apparently, it's the cause of the obesity epidemic sweeping our society and OMA knows how to combat the problem. OMA president Dr. Doug Weir: “We are raising a generation of children that will suffer from devastating and wholly preventable diseases, overwhelm the health system, and die prematurely…. The time for gentle admonitions has come and gone. We need to fight…with…. tax incentives and graphic warnings.”

Privately run and voluntary advocacy groups should be able to push an agenda, but OMA is a special case. They bargain with government when physician’s contracts expire. Effectively they are a union monopoly, with the ear of government. They represent the "political, clinical and economic interests" of the Ontario's medical profession. When they advocate legislation to increase taxes, or restrict marketing, you can be certain such legislation is inevitable. Of course their monopoly plus the government monopoly on healthcare, gives them the credibility to say they can mitigate healthcare costs by behavioural engineering.

OMA uses the unfortunate precedent and apparent success of the anti-tobacco campaign to bolster their case. However, tobacco is not an essential requirement of life, food is. The reasons for the steady decline in Canadian smoking rates over the years may be in part due to government action, but I suspect it has more to do with education and societal pressures. There is little reason to ask someone standing beside you to refrain from drinking cola; smoking is different.

Strangely, there is no real scientific evidence that points to junk food as being the cause of shorter lifespans in people or the primary cause of obesity. Diet is so variable, volume of food may be more important. Should we legislate the size of cutlery? Scientifically, there are too many questions to answer before we impose any judgment on food, even if it were appropriate. Agreement on what is junk food will end up being extremely arbitrary.

Last February three Alberta physicians suggested that junk food be reclassified as "pathogenic," disease-causing, like viruses. I wrote about that story here. Their argument is that junk food contains so many excesses related to various chronic conditions, junk food must be the causative agent. Yet that has never been established because very few people (if any) eat junk food exclusively.

So why is OMA so concerned about your diet that they want to warn you using government legislation? Because we let them, its become fashionable for the political elite to rail against junk food. Lots of stories in the States from the West coast, and the East.

I don't really have a problem with an educational assault on junk food without any government involvement. Good advice on diet is to be expected from physicians, why don't they leave it at that?   

The main argument against the OMA proposal is the libertarian one. Should government use its monopoly on the use of force to control our diets? Certainly not!

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