Issues of health inequities were openly addressed in the Federal Budget, released Tuesday, to the delight of the Dietitians of Canada.
But one policy change that didn’t make it to the forefront was a sugar tax, something that dietitian Kate Comeau says could make a real impact in improving health and lessening the intake of harmful foods.
There’s many ways we can encourage Canadians to eat healthier and reduce their sugar-sweetened beverage or pop consumption, but an excise tax has been shown to be one policy tool that could be implemented, and the funds from that could actually be used to fund health promotion activities.
The budget touched on support to access safe water and more affordable healthy food in Canada’s Aboriginal communities, both positive steps moving forward. But Comeau says the low price of high-sugar grocery items is affecting low-income families in a major way, and they might not even realize it.
If a bottle of pop is costing a dollar less than a litre of milk, maybe you’re going to choose the pop for your family rather than the milk. And maybe it’s subconscious, but that’s the kind of thing we’re seeing.
Comeau recommends a 20 per cent tax (or greater) on products like sugary drinks and sodas, but says that even a 10 per cent tax has been shown to make a difference in what people buy. The low price of fatty foods isn’t the only hurdle in the way of healthy choices, she says, it’s that unhealthy options are everywhere.
It’s not just education or awareness that leads us to make decisions, in fact the prevalence of unhealthy foods is something that influences and that’s why we also at a provincial level and regional level work with government to ensure there is healthy foods available at arenas for example so when you take your kids to hockey it’s not just flashing vending machines selling sugary drinks, that there’s healthy options front and centre.
While Comeau is pleased with many points of the budget, she says that it fell short in areas that would really help Canadians get healthier on a personal level. The idea of a sugar tax has been brought up to government on previous occasions, and she believes that it should continue to be a topic of discussion.
When it comes down to what will help us on an individual level, you know, I think that’s where some of the actions we had been maybe looking for weren’t in that budget.