Coronavirus

From Canada To The UK, Shedding Light On Quarantine Weight

In developed countries, this long period of self-isolation has caused waistlines to bulge — a serious matter, especially since obesity is a clear COVID-19 risk factor.

Uh ho ...
Uh ho ...
Sylvain Charlebois*

-OpEd-

There's a heaviness to the pandemic that's weighing people down, including in a very literal sense. Here in Canada, polls show that some 40% of the population gained weight since mid-March.

The issue isn't, of course, limited to this country. Nor is there one single explanation for why some people have put on a few extra kilograms of late. But governments are choosing to act now, during the pandemic, to raise awareness among their citizens.

Leading the way is the government of Great Britain, where public initiatives include a ban on television and online junk food advertising before 9 p.m. Restaurant menus will also be required to display calories, while over-the-top marketing campaigns for calorie-heavy foods will have to stop: No more chocolate bars near cash registers that encourage impulse buying.

British authorities are even considering a requirement that calories be displayed on alcoholic products. The "Better Health" campaign, as it's known, will be introduced with expanded weight management plans to serve citizens, and will run for nine months.

But governments are choosing to act now, during the pandemic, to raise awareness among their citizens.

The timing of the campaign is no coincidence: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson — who lost more than 6 kgs (13 lbs) after suffering a life-threatening COVID-19 infection last May — acknowledged that overweight people are more likely than people of average weight to contract the virus. About 60% of Britons are overweight, including the prime minister himself.

The food and drink industry was quick to react by saying that the initiative was a good thing, even though this kind of campaign isn't to everyone's liking, since certain products are intentionally targeted. Some companies claim that the program is unfair and prevents the British from enjoying themselves.

Here in Canada, research suggests that about 25% of the people have used self-isolating as an opportunity to change their habits and adopt healthier behaviors. But there's also evidence that more than half of the population has had more difficulty staying healthy during this period.

Gaining the infamous "quarantine 15"... — Photo: Szabo Viktor

Either way, the "Great Quarantine" — aside from the stress it caused — has changed our habits. While it is important to stay active to successfully lose and maintain weight, it is also essential to improve diets, as most people consume more calories than they need. Snacks and sales of alcoholic beverages are increasing throughout the West.

Along with nationwide mass advertising, the British campaign will specifically target areas and groups most affected by obesity. Evidence shows that Black, Asian and minority communities are disproportionately affected by obesity and COVID-19.

The British government's effort should be acknowledged for going much further than any other campaign of its kind. First, it is timely, given the pandemic and its impact on certain demographic groups. The program addresses the taboo of obesity, an important factor in the prevention of COVID-19. It is also the first time a health-oriented program has interfered with the way products are sold in stores without using a regressive tax.

Yes, retailer revenues will be affected. But the program will only last nine months. The same goes for advertising and media revenues. But again, these measures are intended to be temporary. It is a kind of pilot project, and one that will no doubt cost the British state a lot of money for advertising and promotion.

Either way, the "Great Quarantine" — aside from the stress it caused — has changed our habits.

Paradoxically, the announcement of the British approach came just 10 days after the same government spent roughly $750 million on restaurant discounts to encourage its citizens to go out more. Every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in August, every citizen will be entitled to a savings of $15 a day every time they visit a restaurant. Any restaurant can participate in the program, even fast-food restaurants where calorie-filled and unhealthy products are sold in abundance. In this regard, there's a glaring lack of consistency.

In Canada, certain practices are already in place: For example, the number of calories is displayed next to each dish on menus. A next and necessary step is to publicly admit that our population is too fat and even fatter than before.

We should use our COVID-19 public service announcements to encourage people to exercise more and lead active lifestyles. True, the importance of protecting oneself should not be overlooked, but it's also a good opportunity to share a more positive message — while giving Canadians a welcome light push.



*Sylvain Charlebois is a Professor in food distribution and policy in the Faculties of Management and Agriculture at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada.

**This article was translated with permission from the author.

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Economy

Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.


Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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