Cabinet Approves National Slimming Program

Measures to fight obesity and promote healthier habits to go into effect within two weeks.

New strains of fruit and vegetables that pack a bigger nutritional wallop are on the menu of a NIS 440 million anti-obesity program approved by several cabinet ministers on Monday.

As part of the program, Agriculture Ministry experts will work on developing strains of produce that provide more vitamins and minerals for the same calories, the Education Ministry will push enforcement of restrictions on unhealthy food sold in schools, and the Finance Ministry will consider giving a tax break to companies that offer fruits and vegetables as refreshments.

"The Health Ministry is determined to put obesity reduction, nutrition improvement and physical activity at the top of the agenda," said ministry director general Ronny Gamzu. "This is a fight against apathy."

The Health Ministry is covering NIS 175.5 million of the funding for the plan, officially known as the National Program for the Promotion of a Healthy Lifestyle. The rest will come from the ministries of culture and sports, education and agriculture.

"The interministerial cooperation expresses the resolve to implement a widespread national program," said Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman.

The health initiative is expected to go into effect within two weeks, with the same status as a cabinet resolution.

As part of the program, the Health Ministry plans to force restaurants and fast-food chains to advertise the number of calories per serving and seeks to prohibit the manufacture, import or sale of foods rich in trans fats, such as margarine-filled pastries.

Other elements of the anti-obesity program include changing a 1994 law that requires prospective gym-goers to furnish a doctor's note attesting to their physical fitness. Once the program goes into effect, those who want to work out will just have to fill out a fitness questionnaire and sign their own statement of health.

In addition, the Culture and Sports Ministry plans to get existing sports facilities at schools to be opened to the public when they are not being used by the students.

Fifteen percent of Israeli adults and 7 percent of children are chronically obese, according to the Health Ministry. And more than a third of the country's adults - 37 percent - are overweight, as are 14 percent of children.

Analysts estimate that the problem ends up costing the country NIS 5.8 billion a year in health care and associated costs.