Proposed sugar taxes to help end high obesity and diabetes rates

by | Dec 11, 2015 | News

Delia MacTaggart
Life Reporter

Many Western industrialized countries, including Canada, are tasked with combatting high rates of obesity with fragile health-care systems.

To combat the disease and its associated ailments the Canadian Diabetes Association is proposing a tax on sugary drinks.

“We recommend a tax on sugar sweetened beverages as a means to decrease excessive consumption and raise awareness about the health risks associated with excessive consumption,” said Seema Nagpal, Director of Public Policy at the Canadian Diabetes Association.

“Sugar sweetened beverages include soft drinks along with other sugar-sweetened beverages such as sports drinks, fruit drinks, blended coffee drinks, and iced tea.” Nagpal said that when Mexico applied a 10 per cent tax to sugar sweetened drinks last year, 9 per cent of low-income communities stopped drinking them.

“The number of Canadians living with diabetes has doubled in the last 12 years,” said Nagpal

She believes that to reduce the number of Canadians with diabetes, there needs to be more public education, more blood screenings, clearer food labels, and more physical activity, too.

“There’s a concern about increase in obesity and [people are] looking for easy answers, and when certain trends in research appear the media amplifies the significance of it,” said Laura Pasaut a registered dietitian.

For now, there’s no proposed provincial or federal legislation for taxing high sugar foods or drinks. However, the Canadian Diabetes Association recommended a tax on sugar sweetened beverages in September.

Pasaut, a dietitian from the Canadian Sugar Institute, says there’s no recommended daily intake of added sugar, according to the Canadian Healthy Living Food Guide.

She says that regardless of whether sugar naturally occurs or is added, the human body metabolizes it the same.

“It’s hard to determine what might be effective,” Pasaut said in regards to applying a tax to foods with high levels of added sugars.

She thinks it would be better to take on a more holistic approach of maintaining a balanced diet and active lifestyle.

“I think any time there’s a policy related to money, it may have a greater impact on those who are poor,” said Pasaut.

Overall, she thinks in regards to diet choices that reducing the amount of caloric and fat intake should be the main focus.

A quarter of Canadian adults are obese and 37 per cent are overweight, Statistics Canada says.

The cost of high sugar, high calorie, and low nutrient meals are cheaper and more accessible for working class people.

The Journal of the American Medical Association published a paper stating that taxing high sugar foods should be combined with subsidies for healthier choices. They suggested a 10 to 30 per cent tax on high sugar foods.

In an extensive Public Health England document, arguing for sugar taxation, it said only 5 per cent of one’s dietary energy should come from sugar.

In the U.K. sugar accounts for over 12 per cent of adult diets and 14 per cent of diets for those under 18 years old. It also says soft drinks are the largest single source of sugar for children 11 to 18 year olds.

The same document said “we are eating too much sugar and it is bad for our health. Consuming too many foods and drinks high in sugar can lead to weight gain and related problems as well as tooth decay.”