Physicians in Ontario are approaching the issue of obesity with renewed determination, calling for higher taxes on junk food and graphic warnings on food with no nutritional value.

“We need to treat obesity like the public health epidemic that it is,” Doug Weir, president of the Ontario Medical Association, said at a news conference Tuesday.

The proposed anti-obesity measures-- touted by the OMA as some of the most aggressive to be suggested in Canada-- include changes to legislation and the availability of junk food.

Among the proposed measures, the OMA suggests:

  • Limiting the marketing of sugary and fatty food to children.
  • Placing information about obesity-related health risks on high-sugar and high-fat foods.
  • Restricting access to junk food at sports complexes, and other recreational venues that children regularly frequent.

The proposals introduced Tuesday build on the OMA’s previous calls for mandatory calorie listings in chain restaurants and school cafeterias, as well as mandatory physical education programs.

Weir estimated that obesity-related health issues-- from diabetes to heart disease -- cost Ontario taxpayers $2.2 to $2.5 billion annually.

“This is an unnecessary strain on our health care system that is unsustainable,” Weir said.

The approach proposed by the OMA takes inspiration from anti-tobacco campaigns, which successfully called for tax increases on tobacco products. Weir largely attributes the reduction of smoking rates in Ontario, down about 30 per cent since the 1960s, to the tax increase.

“It is clear we need to step up our efforts in order for people and governments to start taking (obesity) seriously,” said Weir. “Luckily for us, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel to find effective and impactful tactics that have proven to work in other areas.”

The OMA’s proposal was quickly criticized by Food and Consumer Products of Canada, an association representing companies that manufacture and distribute food and beverages.

In a statement, the FCPC asserted that the proposed junk-food tax was “nothing but a tax grab that will hurt lower-and middle-income Ontarians the most.”

Phyllis Tanaka, the FCPC’s vice-president of scientific and regulatory affairs, added that a more effective solution would be encouraging consumer education and more product choices.

Up to 31.5 per cent of Canadian youth between the ages of 5 and 17 are overweight or obese, according to Statistics Canada.

In the OMA’s estimation, 75 per cent of obese children become obese adults.