As a general rule, I think it's safe to assume that cheap energy foods are driving the obesity epidemic.
I'm talking about sugar in drinks and lollies, flour in pasta and noodles and bread (one only has to include potatoes, normally a respectable enough vegetable, after deep frying and other extreme processing) and cheap oils. And the mixture of all 3 in biscuits, pastries, cakes, and "treats".
These are the foods the consumption of which has increased during the obesity epidemic. WHO reports that consumption of animal fats has decreased, but total fat consumption has increased. Where intake of calories has increased, these are the foods supplying the extra.
To give only one example, this paper (Behavioral risk factors for obesity during health transition in Vanuatu, South Pacific) found that
"Both the nutrient content and the preparation methods of tinned fish likely contribute to its association with obesity. Tinned fish canned in oil or sauce has higher fat content than most types of fresh fish (21). Furthermore, based on our observations, tinned fish and meat are often served with instant noodles and rice, whereas fresh fish and meat more often accompany dishes made with traditional root crops and vegetables, which are less calorie-dense by comparison. A heavy reliance on tinned fish in urban areas was noted during the first known nutrition survey conducted in Vanuatu in 1951 (22), and has been observed in many areas of the Pacific (23–25).
Tinned fish eaten in the Pacific is canned in soy oil. This, as well as the fact of it being eaten with instant noodles or rice, cancels out the antiobesigenic effects of fish oil omega 3 fatty acids (and, indeed, of protein) in the manner described in this review (Of Mice and Men; Factors abrogating the antiobesity effect of Omega-3 fatty acids).
|In the USA, consumption of omega 3 has remained low, but that of omega 6 has climbed|
500 grams of butter, in New Zealand costs $4-5.
At $8.49 for 2 litres, soy oil is half that price per calorie.
Extra virgin olive oil, which everyone thinks is healthy, is $11.99 a litre, only a little more expensive than butter. Still cheap for 9,000 calories.
The idea of a minimum price, rather than a tax, is twofold; people might choose to use less fat because the cheapest fats would cost more. But the fats that are nutritious (butter is an important source of fat-soluble vitamins) or healthful (olive oil is thought to contain beneficial antioxidants) would not be affected, if their price were to be used as the benchmark for a minimum price for all fats.
How would this apply to sugars?
White sugar costs $1.91 for 500g (it gets complicated here because sugar becomes much cheaper in bulk, more nutritious sweeteners not so much.
Honey (the cheap clover variety) costs $5.19 for 500g. If that's too high a price for sugar, let's look at the least refined form of sugar - treacle. At $6.75 per Kg (price from cache), more than sugar (especially bulk sugar) but still cheap for 4,000 calories.
(Note: I am using prices from the Countdown website because they are available and internally consistent. I shop at Pak'nSave in Auckland so I'm used to prices being a bit lower. The examples I've used here are just that - examples).
From here on in, it's a job for experts. Foods have different prices per calorie at different sizes. It's relatively easy doing this with pure fats and sugars, it will be harder for me to calculate, say, for noodles vs potatoes without knowing the carbohydrate %. (I'm not an economist, I'm not even a shop assistant.)
But here we have white bread - only $1.48 for 600g.
And here's wholemeal bread, at $3.99 for 750g, about twice the price. Not much of a comparison here as the wholemeal bread is likely more processed than the white bread (read the label people, apparently it is no longer possible to bake bread without adding soy protein and a bunch of other non-traditional additives), but still, Government think it's healthier, and maybe it still is, and Government will be the ones responsible for administering any antiobesity food pricing system or tax.
And I'd rather they altered the food environment by pricing up the cheap, empty calories to be closer in price to the more nourishing ones, as opposed to taxing all fats (which would increase the cost of butter or olive oil more than that of soy or corn oil, because they cost more to start with), or taxing saturated fat, which would miss out gutter oils and cheap calories altogether. Similarly, taxing sugars would increase the price of honey or molasses more than that of white sugar or HFCS.
Let’s say the rate was set at $1.20. A 750 ml bottle of wine with 13 percent alcohol content has 7.7 standard drinks so could not be sold for less than $9.24. Not really much of a change there. However, a 3-litre cask of wine with 12.5 percent alcohol content contains 30 standard drinks so could not be sold for less than $36 – more than twice the current retail price.
And the drawbacks listed at the end of the article also apply to minimum pricing on food.