Tackling rising obesity: offer tax credits for healthy BMI

Parents must be rewarded through tax system for achieving and maintaining a healthy BMI

Ireland is on course to be one of the fattest countries in Europe by 2025 as both male and female obesity levels skyrocket. And the looming obesity calamity will have enormous financial implications at both a household and national level.

Irish people on course to be fattest in Europe

New figures show that Ireland will have the most fat men, along with Britain and Lithuania and the second-highest proportion of fat women in Europe by 2025.

Obese Ireland

Graph shows how Irish obesity growth rate is the fastest since 1975

In the most comprehensive review of obesity ever undertaken, which was published in The Lancet,  Imperial researchers pooled analysis from 1698 population-based studies, with more than 19 million participants representing 99 per cent of countries in the world.

In the past 40 years there has been a huge rise in the numbers of people that are obese rising from 105 million in 1975 to 641 million in 2014, with almost a fifth living in just six high-income English-speaking countries—Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, UK, and USA.

Impact on health

Ten types of cancer are linked to excess weight which can also lead to Type-2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and a range of other health problems. Cancer Research UK predicts that obesity related cancer will rise 45 per cent in the next two decades, causing 700,000 new cases of cancer.

Impact on personal financial well-being

Frank Conway, Founder of MoneyWhizz said “I fear that the current obesity trends will have an enormously negative impact on personal financial well-being.”

Medical expenses are the biggest cause of personal bankruptcy filings in the US according to a 2013 report from NerdWallet Health. But health costs also impact public health systems with costs being carried by taxpayers and strained public finances.

Radical reform is the job of Governments, the medical profession and parents

The main drivers of obesity are diet and lack of exercise. It is imperative that Government play a central role regulating sugar, salt and fat levels in processed foods. It must also lead in the provision of more exercise friendly initiatives, including:

  • Cycle lanes that link across urban centres (currently, many don’t)
  • Policing that cycle lanes remain unobstructed.
  • Rollout of more nationwide walking & hiking trails.
  • Tax credits for citizens that keep up a healthy BMI.
  • Restrictions on prescription of medications that counter obesity and diabetes (except as a last resort, not a first resort – diet and exercise being the recommended options).

Parents must also be incentivised to get obesity under control, including:

  • Increased awareness campaigns on the risks of obesity.
  • Tax relief for exercise expenses where a healthy BMI is achieved.

There is no simple solution to tackling the enormous health and financial challenges obesity present. For parents, the long-term implications for them and their children are enormous. But so too are the challenges for society at large. Obesity, once embedded is more expensive to reverse at both a physical and lifestyle perspective than tackling it early.

Without a sustained, targeted and relevant approach to tackling obesity, it will roll across Ireland at significant cost. The State must play the central role in reversing obesity by rewarding those who keep up a healthy BMI and encourage those that don’t to get one.

Frank Conway is Founder of MoneyWhizz and a national middle-distance record holder

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