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Prescription against obesity: stop looking for a magic pill

Montreal, Thursday, May 9, 2013 – Excess weight is a complex phenomenon resulting from a broad range of factors related to diet, personal habits, physical characteristics and social surroundings. However, in the last few years we have been seeing a change in attitude from organizations devoted to promoting healthy living habits. Increasingly, they are advocating coercive solutions based on taxation. These solutions, unfortunately, are not effective at reducing Canadians’ waistlines.

“There is no one law, no single tax, and no single food product scapegoat that can serve as the foundation for a successful anti-obesity strategy,” says Dr. David Gratzer in a new report titled No Magic Pill: Positive Solutions to the Obesity Issue.

“The first step in crafting an effective anti-obesity policy is to accept that there are practical and political limits to the state’s ability to micromanage dietary behaviour in a free society,” he explains. “Policymakers must abandon the search for one magic policy pill that can melt a nation’s pounds away. Nor can we force people to cook at home and exercise. And unless we ban popular food industries outright or ration net calories as we might in wartime, the end-consumer will always have the final say on their own balance — or imbalance — of calories.”

Solutions to this problem should focus on the incentives that individuals face. Dr. Gratzer urges people to show imagination. Whether at the office by holding walk-and-talk meetings or offering rewards for weight loss, at school by introducing short physical activity breaks, or in the community by making sports facilities more accessible, everyone should get involved in reducing the prevalence of paunch.

“Doctors also have a major role to play,” Dr. Gratzer notes. “It doesn’t seem normal for half of us to be uncomfortable about raising the issue of obesity with patients! Beyond better training in this area, we could consider providing better targeted prescriptions, for example. We should no longer limit ourselves to general advice on the importance of eating properly and exercising regularly. This sort of advice has little effect.”

“A wide array of political and socio-economic factors have been contributing to the rise in obesity,” notes Jasmin Guénette, vice-president of the Montreal Economic Institute and a collaborator in this research. “Despite these varied causes, what we eat and what we do with our own bodies remain personal decisions. No program can succeed without individuals being convinced it is useful and choosing to take part in it. Our responsibility toward ourselves must be the starting point in reversing this tendency.”

This Research Paper, titled No Magic Pill: Positive Solutions to the Obesity Issue, was written by Dr. David Gratzer, a Canadian doctor, award-winning author and expert in public policy on health matters. This Research Paper, as well as the Economic Note Are Soda Taxes A Cure for Obesity?, are available on our website.

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The Montreal Economic Institute is an independent, non-partisan, not-for-profit research and educational organization. Through its publications and conferences, the MEI stimulates debate on public policies in Quebec and across Canada by proposing wealth-creating reforms based on market mechanisms.

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Interview requests: Ariane Gauthier, Senior Advisor, Communications, Montreal Economic Institute / Tel.: 514 273-0969 ext. 2231 / Cell: 514 603-8746 / Email: agauthier@iedm.org

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