Obesity, smoking kill 16,000 Israelis a year

Litzman opposes plan which would tax unhealthy

January 13, 2017 00:44
2 minute read.
Young men smoking near Ashdod

Young men smoking near Ashdod. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Overweight and obesity largely caused by the consumption of sugar are responsible for annual deaths of an estimated 6,402 Israelis and 268,009 hospitalization days in an average year.

In addition, sweets caused dental costs totaling NIS 264 million annually, according to health economist Dr. Gary Ginsberg of the Health Ministry, who recently published an article on the subject in the Israel Journal of Health Policy Research.

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In total, obesity, overweight and sugar consumption accounted for NIS 2,449 billion in direct treatment costs (0.21% of the gross domestic product), rising to NIS 4,027b.

(0.35% of GDP) when indirect costs were included.

Thus, Ginsberg recommends the institution of a national program of reducing caloric consumption from sugar from 12.45% to 10% over five years and regards this as a “very feasible short-term goal.” Even if the program does not impose taxes on sugar consumption – which are opposed by Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman – this could save NIS 778 million and 1,184 lives.

However, deaths resulting from tobacco smoking that Litzman – according to Channel 2 TV’s investigation this week and many smoking-prevention activists – has done nothing to fight – kills as many as 10,000 Israelis annually.

Treating smokers for heart disease, cancer of the lungs and many other organs, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and other ills cost many billions of shekels a year, much more than the diseases caused by sugar consumption.

Litzman and Health Minister director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov began efforts to reduce sugar consumption, especially in process food and soft drinks, in recent months.

Ginsberg was asked by Litzman to look at the economic and mortality consequences of sugar consumption and authored the article. He did not delve in this article into the beneficial effects of exercise – which have not been mentioned at all by Litzman in his anti-sugar campaign.

But Ginsberg has previously published articles on the positive effects of physical exercise in publications of the Myers- JDC-Brookdale Institute in Jerusalem in which he wrote: “Physical inactivity [or sedentariness] is a serious and expensive risk factor for many chronic diseases.

Approximately NIS 1.5b. in direct healthcare costs may be attributed to sedentariness.”

The increasing prevalence of obesity, which has more than doubled since 1980 is an important public health problem that contributes to excess morbidity and, to a lesser degree, increased mortality, Ginsberg wrote in the latest article.

“Overweight and obesity, as well as their related noncommunicable diseases, are largely preventable... At the individual level, people can limit their energy intake from total fats and sugars, increase their consumption of fruit, vegetables and legumes, whole grains and nuts and engage in regular physical activity.”

The ministry economist noted that a recent report from the UK proposed a multifaceted approach to decrease calorific consumption from sugars – a gradual reduction of sugar content in everyday food and drink products, combined with reductions in portion size; price increases of a minimum of 10% on high-sugar products through the use of a tax or levy such as on full-sugar soft drinks (which Litzman said he strongly opposes); limitation of advertisements for high-sugar food and drink products to children and adults; implementation of public sector catering standards to ensure provision and sale of healthier food and drinks in hospitals, leisure centers etc.; and encouraging health promotion by providing practical steps to help individuals lower their own and their families’ sugar intake.

However, only some of these elements have been included in Litzman’s program to fight obesity and overweight.

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