Obesity expert challenges takeaway food tax

A world authority on obesity has described Birmingham City Council’s proposed takeaway food ban as ‘deeply flawed’ and ‘damaging to the fight against obesity’.

Dr David Ashton, medical director of the Healthier Weight group and an Honorary Senior Lecture at Imperial College, has spoken out against plans put forward by BCC, believing them to be a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to recent bad publicity spotlighting Birmingham as Europe’s fattest city (based on a study from the Association of Public Health Observatories).

“The recently announced decision of Birmingham City Council to ban takeaways in close proximity to schools is an all-too-familiar example of how good intentions based on scientific illiteracy can lead to hopelessly flawed policy,” explained Dr Ashton.

Dr David Ashton, founder of Birmingham-based Healthier Weight clinics, renowned for pioneering bariatric surgery, said: “The flaw lies in the underlying assumption that frequent consumption of takeaways (and other ‘junk’ foods) is driving childhood obesity rates in the West Midlands and that banning them will help to reduce these rates.”

“All of this seems blindingly obvious to most people, but in truth, the available scientific evidence on this question is inconsistent and in general does not support an association between consumption of junk food and childhood obesity.”

The challenge from Dr Ashton to Birmingham – and other like-minded authorities that are pursuing a similar ‘fat tax’ – comes in the form of a comparative test based on location of schools:

‘No study has ever shown that the banning of fast-food outlets in close proximity to schools has had any beneficial health benefits for the children. I would be interested to see a detailed map of Birmingham showing the location of the main schools and takeaway outlets.

Dr Ashton suggested: “Measure the heights and weights of all the children and see if those with local takeaways have higher rates of childhood obesity than those who do not. I would strongly suspect that no such association will be found and that, consequently, the strategy of banning takeaways would be an action based on faith, not reason.”

“Even if takeaway consumption is an important contributor to obesity rates in children, it doesn’t guarantee that banning takeaways would lead to a reduction in obesity rates,” he concludes. “Without changing perceptions of food and healthy eating, experience shows that children will simply switch to eating other foods – cakes, chocolate, ice-cream, sweets etc – that are available from other local sources."

“Presumably Birmingham and other councils across the UK would then have to consider banning newsagents, garages, corner shops and local supermarkets as well.”


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Obesity expert challenges takeaway food tax
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