Weekly roundup 26th August - Fat Taxes and Nudges

Author: Abdel Khairoun

Rising levels of obesity will pose a bigger and more costly problem for governments.

Rising levels of obesity will pose a bigger

and more costly problem for governments.

Image by Mallinaltzin/Wikimedia.

‘We’re too fat and we need to do something about it’ claims British Public Health Minister Anne Milton and asserting that only a ‘collective voluntary effort’ (is that something related to the Big Society? She is a Conservative MP after all. -author) was the best way to achieve results. This ‘collective effort’ includes businesses labelling products better with easier to read nutritional information and consumers making informed choices – but where does the government come in? 'We are working with food companies to reduce fat, sugar and salt and ensure healthier options are available' says Milton.

The Conservatives have made it quite clear that they don’t want to impose any taxes on ‘unhealthy foods’ or legislate, despite opinion from some that it may be the best solution. Health Secretary Andrew Lansley famously said ‘rather than nannying people we will nudge them. Nudges are very important. Tax is not a nudge, tax is a shove’. Despite a number of countries adopting taxes in Europe it seems the Conservatives are only seeking a solution that fits in with its Big Society ambitions – ie do it yourselves, guys.

I am in no way affirming that tax and legislation are the best methods to deal with the problem, and the concerns about consumer choice and freedom are also factors that should be considered, as well as the effectiveness of advice dished out by experts over the last 40 years, but it seems the Coalition is doing as little as possible for a big problem facing the UK.

The BBC reported on a Series of papers published by The Lancet concerning obesity claiming that obesity-related problems, such as diabetes, accounted for up to 6% of health care costs in most countries and is set to increase, and that rates of obesity on the populations of both the USA and the UK were predicted to reach 40% by 2030, costing the National Health Service an extra £2bn a year. More from the BBC can be found here and here.

But what have we been up to here at Significance this week? Our September issue of the print magazine went to press this week and this week also saw 16-year-olds across the UK receive their GSCE results and Ramesh Kapadia and Andrew McCulloch both chipped in with education-related articles. We had more Shakespeare, and we have more next week too, and, Peter Sprent, Julian Champkin and Michael Wallace all wrote about statisticians. Claire Packham investigated the release of unemployment figures and Olaf Chedzoy proposes a new scoring method for judging writing competitions. We've also continued to publish videos entered to the "Promoting the Practice and Profession of Statistics" video competition run by The Public Awareness Group of the American Statistical Association. And finally John Garnsworthy analysed results of the public's choices for their Desert Island Records - and asks Significance readers which 8 records they would choose. Maybe we could compile a list of Significance readers' choices?....

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