Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Brilliant British crackdown on "obesity"

Make gyms MORE expensive. Yes, you read that right: MORE expensive. The right hand clearly does not know what the left hand is doing

Efforts to tackle the growing obesity problem risk being seriously undermined by a move to claim VAT on public gym memberships held by nearly three million people. While private gyms have to charge VAT on membership at 17.5 per cent, gyms run by leisure centres have enjoyed a partial exemption, allowing them to keep costs down. In addition, most of the not-for-profit trusts that run hundreds of leisure centre gyms on behalf of local authorities have not been charging VAT at all. But after a seemingly obscure court case in Scotland won by Revenue & Customs, tax officials have circulated a warning to all 2,597 public gyms saying that they must levy VAT on their full membership fees.

Experts say that the move will undermine Gordon Brown's attempts to bring obesity under control, with higher fees likely to push thousands of members - and those most at risk of obesity - into giving up going to the gym altogether. Average monthly fees at public gyms are 28.39 pounds , or 340 a year, according to the Leisure Database Company, compared with 42.07 at a private gym. Full VAT on top would increase the annual fee to 400.

Experian, a business consultancy, has analysed the backgrounds of the 2.8 million public gym members and forecast that at least 12 per cent, or 350,000 members, would give up their membership if the cost went up. "If public leisure centre operators are forced to put up gym fees as a result of this initiative, they risk putting prices beyond the reach of the very target groups the Government is trying to get to do more exercise. It will seriously undermine attempts to get the nation more active," said Patrick Gray, senior consultant at Experian. A regional breakdown of the data also indicated that charging full VAT on public gym membership would mean that in some areas, including Bristol and Southampton, they would be more expensive than private gyms.

Craig McAteer, chairman of the Sports and Recreation Trusts Association (SpoRTA), urged the Revenue to reconsider. The body represents 115 leisure trusts that run 550 leisure centres for local authorities. "A significant number of our customers are in the lower socioeconomic groups," he said. "If our public leisure centres are forced to apply VAT, considerably increasing the price, we could see a huge drop-off in visitors which will ultimately damage the Government's vision of increasing participation and tackling rising obesity problems."

The Revenue defended its actions, saying that it had not changed the rules but was simply reminding leisure centres of their VAT liabilities. The case involved the Highlands council, which levied only a small amount of VAT on fees at leisure centres to cover non-sport facilities at the gym, such as the sauna and steam room. The court ruled that since membership was all-inclusive, VAT had to be charged on the full amount.

After its victory, the Revenue dashed out a warning to all leisure centres and trusts. "Quick as a flash after the court case Revenue & Customs made clear that the whole membership payment is subject to VAT and that trusts must also charge VAT if the subscription covers any activity that is not strictly speaking sport, which is of course most gyms these days," said Steve Hodgetts, VAT partner at Baker Tilly, the accountant. "It also made clear it would chase up VAT retrospectively if leisure centres had not been paying it. We calculate a bill of about 20 million."

The Revenue said that it had not changed the guidelines and was only clarifying what should always have been the case.


Why am I not surprised?

Guidelines on safe alcohol consumption limits that have shaped health policy in Britain for 20 years were "plucked out of the air" as an "intelligent guess". The Times reveals today that the recommended weekly drinking limits of 21 units of alcohol for men and 14 for women, first introduced in 1987 and still in use today, had no firm scientific basis whatsoever. Subsequent studies found evidence which suggested that the safety limits should be raised, but they were ignored by a succession of health ministers.

One found that men drinking between 21 and 30 units of alcohol a week had the lowest mortality rate in Britain. Another concluded that a man would have to drink 63 units a week, or a bottle of wine a day, to face the same risk of death as a teetotaller.

The disclosure that the 1987 recommendation was prompted by "a feeling that you had to say something" came from Richard Smith, a member of the Royal College of Physicians working party that produced it. He told The Times that the committee's epidemiologist had confessed that "it's impossible to say what's safe and what isn't" because "we don't really have any data whatsoever".

Mr Smith, a former Editor of the British Medical Journal, said that members of the working party were so concerned by growing evidence of the chronic damage caused by heavy, long-term drinking that they felt obliged to produce guidelines. "Those limits were really plucked out of the air. They were not based on any firm evidence at all. It was a sort of intelligent guess by a committee," he said. Mr Smith's disclosure casts doubt on the accuracy of a report published this week that blamed middle-class wine drinkers for placing some of Britain's most affluent towns at the top of the "hazardous drinking" list. The study, commissioned by the Government, relied on the 1987 guidelines when it suggested that men drinking more than 21 units a week and women consuming more than 14 units put their health "at significant risk".

In a further attack on Britain's drinkers, it was revealed yesterday that a coalition of health organisations is mounting a campaign to force a 10 per cent increase in alcohol taxation. The group, headed by the Royal College of Physicians, is also seeking to secure the support of MPs for stricter regulation of the drinks industry and warnings on alcohol advertising. A total of 21 bodies, including Alcohol Concern and the British Liver Trust, will form the Alcohol Health Alliance, according to Harpers Wine and Spirit magazine.



Just some problems with the "Obesity" war:

1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).

2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.

3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.

4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.

5). Food warriors demonize salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.

7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.

8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? And what about butter and margarine? They are just about pure fat. Surely they should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].


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