Health Unit agrees with tax on sugary drinks

SUDBURY DISTRICT—The Sudbury and District Health Unit (SDHU) has joined the call by the Association of Local Public Health Agencies (ALPHA) for the Ontario government to establish a comprehensive strategy to promote healthy eating. ALPHA has singled out a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages as an essential component of a healthy eating strategy.

“Yes, we are in support of the ALPHA calls for a healthy eating strategy,” said Bridget King, public health nutritionist with the SDHU, last week. The ALPHA resolution on healthy eating includes a tax to reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

Ms. King said as well it has been proven, “within a lot of communities that have experimented with a sugary beverage tax, that when a tax is imposed there is a reduction in the consumption of sugary drinks. They’re (ALPHA) calling for this to be put in place in the province, and we are waiting to see if there will be a shift.”

ALPHA is calling on the Ontario government to develop a province-wide comprehensive strategy to promote healthy eating. Referencing recommendations in the recent Senate report ‘Obesity in Canada’ and the Heart and Stroke Foundation position statement Sugar, Heart Disease and Stroke alpha singled out a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages as an essential component of a healthy eating strategy.

Specific policy measures such as taxation as part of a larger strategy can have a measurable impact on what people buy and consume. Results from Mexico and other jurisdictions have proven that taxation is a successful measure to reduce sugary drink intake.

“You can draw a straight line from sugary drinks to obesity and huge costs to the health system,” says Dr. Chris Mackie, vice-chair of the Council of Ontario Medical Officers of Health (COMOH). “With 10 teaspoons of sugar in a can of pop and super-sized beverages having as much as 35 teaspoons, over- consuming these drinks can cause health problems. A tax on sugary drinks merits consideration and it’s surprising this hasn’t been discussed sooner.”

Consuming too much sugar is linked to heart disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes and other chronic conditions. The Heart and Stroke Foundation position statement recommends added (or “free”) sugar intake not exceed 10 percent of daily calories.

“There are so many factors that contribute to obesity and chronic illnesses. It’s not just about one magic bullet; we need a multi-sectoral and multi-pronged approach to address these factors,” says Dr. Valerie Jaegar, president of ALPHA. “We believe that now is a good time for the government of Ontario to take up the call for a comprehensive province-wide approach to promote and support healthy eating.”

Evidence shows that a higher intake of sugar sweetened beverages in children has been associated with a 55 percent increased risk of being overweight or obese. Prevalence of overweight children in Ontario has increased from 14 percent to 19 percent and obesity has increased from three to nine percent.

“The Heart and Stroke Foundation applauds ALPHA’s leadership and bold recommendations to improve the health of Ontarians,” says Mary Lewis, VP Research, Advocacy and Health Promotion, Heart and Stroke Foundation. “Sugary beverages have no health benefits, only health risks; a tax is a progressive and proven measure to help decrease consumption.”

Past ALPHA resolutions that support healthy eating include support for a ban on advertising to children and recommendations to reduce sodium and trans fat in the food supply.