Fight obesity, but not with a fat tax

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Fight obesity, but not with a fat tax


Most Koreans over the age of 50 remember how they craved sweets and fatty food when they were young. Until the 1970s, Koreans were short of food of all sorts. Children were not as well fed as the kids today, and the lack of nourishment affected their appearance, often in the form of boils or warts. To the children of today, this may sound like a story from some distant country or ancient times.

In the 1970s, snacks such as Seukkang and ramen were marketed to wide popularity. Chilsung Cider was the first comer in the soft drink market, and Fanta, Coca-Cola and Oran-C joined the competition. The children of the ’70s envied friends who had sufficient supplies of snacks and instant noodles. Forty years later, soft drinks and snacks have become “public enemies.” These foods are high in saturated fat, sugar, sodium and carbohydrates and cause nutritional imbalances and obesity.

This month, Denmark introduced a new “fat tax” on products with more than 2.3 percent saturated fat. The news must have caused mixed feelings among members of the older generations in Korea. Our obesity rate is the lowest in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, but we need to be concerned about the rate of increase. Should we feel assured that Korea has come far enough to be so well off? Or should we envy the younger generation for enjoying an abundance of food?

A recent documentary on EBS called “The Secret of Evolution: Food” talked about the benefits of a “Stone Age diet.” The documentary said that just like people in the Paleolithic era, who relied on hunting and gathering, we can benefit from a lifestyle that includes physical activity and a diet of meat, vegetables, fruit and nuts without excessive carbohydrate intake. Maybe the documentary was hoping to ride on the back of the weight-loss boom. At any rate, it is noteworthy for addressing the growing rate of obesity in this country.

To combat obesity, the Ministry of Health and Welfare is currently considering imposing a health-promotion tax on high-calorie junk foods, similar to Denmark’s fat tax. But we must keep one thing in mind. Unlike 40 years ago, the children and young adults of low-income families are more exposed to the risk of obesity, as they consume inexpensive fast food, instant food and snacks. A fat tax would put a greater burden on the underprivileged. The health authorities need to consider better ways to fight obesity.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Noh Jae-hyun
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