Article by Avv. Felix Hofer1
According to a recent study conducted by the Scuola Superiore di S. Anna in Pisa2, by year 2025 twenty million Italians are likely to suffer from obesity and nutritional disorder. The social costs necessary for facing side effects linked to diseases deriving from nutritional disorder are deemed to result around 30 million Euros (20% of public spending).
While the picture of such future development appears to be extremely worrying, even the current situation is raising serious concern: five million Italians (approximately 10% of the entire population) suffering from obesity cause social costs in the range of 6,7% of global public healthcare spending.
In addition, the results of multiple surveys3, performed between 1995 and 2005 (with its focus on childhood overweight) and collected in a master database, have shown that "the highest prevalence of overweight or obesity was detected among Italian children" and also that "Italian children aged 9-11 years had higher values for anthropometric variables (for example, waist circumference) than the other children".
Confronted with such – rather impressive – results of scientific research, the Italian Department of Public Health has repeatedly evaluated introducing a special tax on junk food and other food products high in salt and sugar as well as soft drinks and sweets in order to force Italians (and especially young people) to healthier nutritional habits. Such plans were obviously always strongly opposed by the industry sectors addressed by the new tax.
This summer – in the context of the spending review efforts of the Italian Government – the moment appeared to be right for coming up with a special tax as all Departments had been called to either cutting costs or indicating new financial resources. To the purpose in July and August all Departments worked on new measures suitable to meet the purposes of the spending review.
The Department of Public Health proposed a new tax both, on soft drinks as well as on super-alcoholic beverages, meant to remain in force for a three years period and deemed to collect about 600 million Euros.
In the Department's intentions producers of soft-drinks and super-alcoholics should be called to pay respectively Euro 7,16 and Euro 50,00 for each 100 litres of product made available on the market. The return of such taxation would be allocated in the area of public health assistance.
The proposal gave rise to heavy criticism and an intense public debate: industry lobbyists, but also several members of the House and nutrition specialists, considered the measure as useless to the purpose of reducing unhealthy nutritional habits among the Italian population.
The proposal – together with other spending review measures – was put on the agenda of the Government meeting scheduled for August 28th. While such meeting was delayed to September 5th, the tax proposal disappeared from the agenda and is no longer in discussion.
The interested industry sectors clearly heaved a big sigh of relief, but the problem underlying the Government's plans remains and the issues involved are by no means 'country specific', but do actually result in huge problem all over the world.
In recent years Health Care organizations and the Government have constantly alerted the public opinion in the US about the risks of an unhealthy diet and negative side effects linked to excessive consumption of so-called "junk food" and drinks high in sugar (obesity is a serious problem to 16% of the US population).
In Germany obesity results in a national disease with a growing trend4 and affects almost 30% of the entire population. The Government is therefore considering a special action plan, meant to fight the current situation, and has already started to perform specific educational campaigns at schools. Children attending primary school are provided with a nutritional passport, suppliers catering meals to schools have to comply with nutritional standards.
Spain has recently overcome the US with a 19% share of obese people of the entire national population is therefore performing intense educational efforts (the Municipality of Madrid has decided to run a specific campaign, under the slogan "Mide Tu Salud" = measure your health).
Hungary has introduced a "chips tax" applied on food high in salt and sugar, soft and energy drinks as well as on beverages with fruit content lower than 25%.
In Denmark the approach is even stricter: special taxes are applied on food containing fat (e. g. butter, meat, milk, pizza).
The French Government is also struggling with a worrying 15% share of obese people and the Health Department is therefore considering a reduction of TV commercials for food products high in sugar during so-called 'protected air time' (when an audience of young people is likely to watch TV).
(as per September 2012)
1. Felix Hofer is a named an founding partner of the Italian law firm Studio Legale Hofer-Loesch-Torricelli, in Firenze (Italy), via Giambologna no. 2/R; he may be reached through the following contact details: Phone: +39 055 5535166 – Fax: +39 055 578239; E-mail: email@example.com (personal account) – firstname.lastname@example.org (firm account).
2. One of the most renown Italian University Institutions (for details access their website at the following URL: http://www.sssup.it/).
3. Reference is to the IDEFICS project, coordinated by the Bremen Institute for Prevention Research and Social Medicine, University of Bremen, in Germany; for details visit the IDEFICS website at the URL: http://www.idefics.eu/Idefics.
4. According to research conducted by the OECD; for details visit: http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/topics/health/.
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