Limiting choice ineffective in curbing obesity

Blog, Healthcare & Welfare, Joseph Quesnel

The reasoning is that that junk food is not coming from the schools.

‘Schools only represent a small portion of children’s food environment,” said Jennifer Van Hook, the sociology professor who led the study.

This is not to suggest childhood obesity is not a health concern, particularly in North America.

Banning junk food in vending machines has become all the rage in many quarters, but especially in schools. The pattern is all too common: a problem is identified (childhood obesity), politicians or those in authority want to be seen ‘doing something’ about the problem so they go for the low-hanging fruit policy solutions.

The problem is obesity is a complicated problem, involving diet choices at the family level, the cost of healthy foods vs. not-to-healthy foods, convenience, etc..

Meredith Lilly, a recent intern at the Frontier Centre,  in a policy piece identified how this kind of ‘soft paternalism’ is largely ineffective in really changing behaviour.

For example, she cited a 2010 study in the United States showed that soda taxes had little influence on purchases and even less effect on obesity, partially due to an existing preference for sugar-free soda among at-risk groups.

Policy makers need to focus on education and incentivizing good choices rather than using the bully stick.