‘Fruit cocktail’ with fresh pomegranate seeds, strawberries, orange juice and sugar..
(photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
After decades of apathy in the Knesset and the Health Ministry about preventing disease, three MKs established on Tuesday the first Lobby for Health Promotion in a ceremony well attended by parliamentarians and public representatives.
MKs Eitan Cabel, Rachel Azaria and Yisrael Eichler set up the lobbying group and promised the participants that they would convene it often and work for measures that would promote good health.
Although refreshments for such events in the Knesset usually include burekas, other trans-fat pastries and soft drinks, the organizers made sure that in honor of the occasion the tables were laid with only fresh fruit, vegetables and tea.
But in the Knesset cafeteria and vending machines directly below the Jerusalem Hall where it was held, junk food was very visible, as it is in the Health Ministry’s cafeteria in Jerusalem.
The health promotion lobby was initiated by Mehayom, the Israel Forum for a Healthful Lifestyle.
Cabel said that his grandfather died at a young age of diabetes complications in Yemen, even though the prevalence of the disease in that country was very low. Today it is 250% higher.
He vowed to push through legislation that would tax sweetened beverages, even though Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, who was present for part of the meeting, said he opposes this for several reasons. He argued that it is better to get industry to voluntarily reduce the sugar content of food, so as not to cause unemployment in factories that make junk food.
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Cabel insisted: “I will table such a bill, and if it fails, I will do it again and again and again. The public will be with us on this. In the US, there were referenda in four states and all voted in favor of such a tax. I am not afraid of any of the [beverage] companies.”
MK Azaria, the mother of four children and the MK who pushed through legislation to regulate the food in all afternoon school frameworks, said she first became aware of the problem when she saw the junk food eaten in kindergarten by her eldest child. “Junk food is very tempting; it is engineered so you can’t stop eating it,” she said.
More than a third of seventh graders are overweight or obese, she said, and many schoolchildren get to school in their parents’ cars rather than walking.
Litzman said the public is ripe for improved food and he is happy that dairies have removed sugar from chocolate milk. He said he is for gradual change so industry could adapt to it. He promised to push for lower prices for wholewheat bread, adding that he is in the process of getting subsidies for gluten-free foods for celiac patients.
As for his controversial attacks on Hanukka doughnuts (sufganiyot), the minister clarified that he is not for outlawing them, just for eating fewer.
Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov, who headed a public committee to promote better nutrition, said he was pleased that so many came to participate in the lobby’s launch.
He added that the committee’s recommendations included the marking of sugar content on food labels in the form of teaspoons and good or unhealthful food with green or red labels. Half of the general population and 70% of the economically disadvantaged are overweight or even obese, he said.
Bar Siman Tov said the ministry is working for the reformulation of many of the 1,500 main food products sold to contain less sugar as well as less fat and salt.
Dr. Maya Rosman, a leading clinical dietitian, warned that many artificial sweeteners (not including natural products like stevia) consumed by people who want to avoid sugar are harming themselves, as they have been proven to raise blood sugar levels and increase the appetite for sweet foods. The sale of cyclamate, one commonly used artificial sweetener in Israel, is banned in the US because it is harmful, she said.
Awareness of this risk must increase, said Rosman.
Eichler noted that the 12th century Jewish sage and physician Maimonides gave the correct advice – to walk regularly, finish eating before you are satiated and not to eat or drink when not hungry or thirsty.
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