Integrative Care
Policy News

NGO: “Sweden Lagging Behind in Health and Food Field”

28 February, 2014 by David Finer

IMG_1970-150x150 – Ignorance and fear lie at the heart of  the resistance to our proposals. Sweden is at least ten years behind in the field of diet and health. Our politicians must be bold enough to allocate more resources, says Dr. David Stenholtz, President of the recently established NGO Physicians for the Future in this interview.

The Swedish NGO Physicians for the Future was established in October of last year. In an article on February 4 in the liberal Stockholm morning newspaper Dagens Nyheter (Daily News), its goals were introduced by Stenholtz together with a nutritionist and a medical student, the headline reading: “Time for Tax Exemption for Healthy Food.”

Deluge of propaganda
The article begins by addressing the argument that it would be wrong to interfere with what people want to eat. We are already exposed to a barrage of messages about food and diets, runs the counter-argument. Most of this information is communicated by commercial interests and promotes unhealthy foods, the authors argue. Moreover, today’s pricing policies serve to reward unhealthy dietary choices.

The authors conclude with some suggestions:

  • Make healthy food exempt from VAT (value added tax) and subsidize healthy foods so that everyone can afford the healthy choices.
  • Tax unhealthy foods so that they bear the costs of the illness they create.
  • Restrict advertising so we do not have to hear junk food’s constantly being praised.
  • Give our health authorities more resources to disseminate information about the importance of diet in health and disease.

Great Interest in the NGO
There is a lot of interest in the new NGO and its objectives, both in Swedish media and among the public, as testified by the many who have expressed support. The political impact remains to be seen. We posed some questions to the President, Dr. David Stenholtz, an oncologist at the hospital in Västerås, a town of about 110 000 inhabitants, barely an hour´s drive westwards from the capital Stockholm.

Why do you think the health care system attributes so relatively little importance to the role of food?

DS: Too little is invested in the field, as is true of all preventive care services. Nor is it possible to reallocate resources from the curative health care services to invest in healthy people. That would not be ethical. Our politicians must be bold enough to allocate more resources to this field.

What do you yourselves see as the main barriers to implementing your suggestions about selective taxation of different foods?

DS: A major obstacle is the ignorance that prevails among both politicians and the public about the importance of nutrition for health. If you believe that diet has little meaning, you are obviously not going to be inclined to support our proposals. Secondly, there are fears of short-term economic losses. Unfortunately, food manufacturers protest against any proposal that involves reducing the consumption of meat and fast carbs. Currently, they make the most money on these products. The realization that you are likely to earn as much money on healthy food has not really had an impact yet. The U.S. has made ​​more progress in this area with large grocery chains that only sell healthy foodstuffs.

Professor Emeritus at (the prestigious Swedish medical school in Stockholm) Karolinska Institutet Stephan Rössner recently wrote an opinion piece in the newspaper Dagens Nyheter that we should stop discussing various diet programs because compliance with all diets are low. The important thing was not to squabble over different diets but generally to eat less and exercise more. He encountered a lot of opposition. What do you think of his reasoning?

DS: There is a lot to be said for it. I think it’s a shame that those who have discussed diets publicly in recent decades have been so obsessed with debating which diet results in the greatest weight loss. Our focus is on which diet and which foods provide the most health and prevent disease the best. A healthy diet also leads to a healthy body weight, but that is secondary for us.

What advocacy experiences are there to learn from in this area?

DS: There is a lot of experience; especially from the U.S. Sweden is at least ten years behind in the field of diet and health. I myself am regularly in touch with (the American organization) PRCM (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine), who give us both advice and some materials that we can translate, in addition to our own.

How is the interest in your association? Can anybody become a member?

DS: Anyone can join us. There has been considerable interest so far. I have lectured to medical colleagues, and later this Spring, there are plans for more lectures to doctors, nurses and politicians who influence the health field. We also hope that as many people as possible will look at some of the material on our website and start to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

David Finer

Read more: Website of the NGO Physicians for the Future (in Swedish)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.