The meeting, taking place in Washington, DC this week, brings together doctors, dietitians and academics to discuss research developments and diverse ways to tackle obesity, including policy interventions.
Obesity rates have skyrocketed in the US in recent years – 15 percent of the population was obese in 1980, compared to 34 percent today, according to figures from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. These swelling figures – along with the rising cost of healthcare for obesity-related diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease – have put pressure on government to find a solution, and taxing sugary soft drinks is one idea that has been the subject of intense debate.
But as the Obesity Society meeting convened, the Center for Consumer Freedom – a non-profit organization funded by food and beverage companies, restaurants and individuals – argued that taxes should not be on the agenda and policy makers need to look at a bigger picture.
Senior research analyst at CCF Justin Wilson said in the statement: “The public health community seems dead-set on ever more regulation of our lives. The push for taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages is just the latest example of the disdainful belief that when it comes to matters of personal choices, the regulators know best.
“Government taxation should not be a tool for social engineering. Nor should it be used to penalize individuals for their personal food choices.”
However, the Obesity Society does believe that with 72m obese Americans and estimated associated health care costs of about $140bn a year, there should be action beyond personal choice – which, it claims, is not capable of solving the problem on its own.
It said in a position paper that obesity is not simply a character flaw, but “a complex disease involving genes, behavior and environment.”
“While personal willpower and healthy lifestyle choices are part of the solution, a lack of willpower is not the cause and personal responsibility alone is not enough to solve the problem,” it said.
The Obesity Society’s agenda for the meeting does not involve any specific focus on soda tax, but it said: “We believe that a national debate on obesity, similar to past campaigns in smoking and cholesterol, will be necessary to move us ahead.”