Health advocates argue for a tax on sugary drinks in Canada to save lives and healthcare costs

Source: iStock

Twenty-four public health advocates and organizations are calling on the Canadian government to levy a significant tax on manufacturers of sugary drinks to discourage consumption and help fund healthy living initiatives.

“Excessive sugary drink intake is a major risk factor for the development of unhealthy weights and resultant chronic illnesses, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, stroke and some cancers,” argue the petitioners, who include several universities, medical associations, healthcare providers and institutions and health advocacy groups, such as Diabetes Canada and the Alberta Policy Coalition for Chronic Disease.

They also claim that “many Canadians drink unhealthy quantities of sugary drinks,” which is contributing significant health care costs and lost productivity costs.

To support their argument, several leading health organizations commissioned research conducted by the University of Waterloo that reveals Canadians consumed on average 227 ml of sugar-sweetened beverages per day in 2015, a level that rises to 334 ml daily when 100% juice and other sugary drinks were added. 

“For many Canadians, the mean caloric intake from these sugary drinks alone exceeds dietary recommendations to limit free sugar intake to less than 10% of total energy intake,” the research notes.

At this rate, the research estimates that over the next 25 years sugar-sweetened drink consumption will contribute to more than 2.1 million cases of obesity, more than 650 thousand cases of people being overweight, and hundreds of thousands of cases of cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

“The health burden from sugary drinks,” which includes 100% juice, “is substantially higher,” with responsibility for a predicted 3.04 million cases of obesity and many more cases of cancer, heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

The estimated direct health care costs related to the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is estimated at $33.7 billion and $50.6 billion for sugary drinks, the report adds.

Inspired by the increasing number of countries and US cities that have implemented, or are implementing, excise taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, the researchers modeled the impact of imposing a similar tax in Canada at 10%, 20% and 30%.

Needless to say, as the tax increased the healthcare costs and cases of chronic disease associated with sugar-sweetened beverages decreased in the models.

Specifically, it predicted a 20% excises levy on manufacturers of sugary drinks over 25 years would save more than 13,000 lives and prevent more than 600,000 cases of obesity, up to 200,000 cases of type 2 diabetes, more than 200,000 cases of cancer and more than 8,000 strokes.

In addition, a 20% levy over 25 years would save $11.5 billion in healthcare costs and raise $1.7 billion per year in government revenue for a total of $43.6 billion after 25 years.

These funds could go towards subsidizing vegetables and fruit for Canadian families, ensuring access to safe drinking water and plain low fat milk in native communities and providing health school lunches to students, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, which was one of the groups that signed the call to action.

Other steps necessary

The Heart and Stroke Foundation acknowledges that the levy is not the only solution to the issue of excess weight and the overall health of Canadians.

It also advocates restricting marketing to children, improving food and menu labeling, providing better access affordable, healthy food and educating Canadians about healthy food choices and preparation. 

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