Should sugary drinks face a 20 per cent tax? Dietitians call for extra tax to curb obesity

Click to play video: 'Taxing sugar-sweetened beverages?'
Taxing sugar-sweetened beverages?
Registered dietitian Brooke Bulloch talks about the Dietitians of Canada's new position statement on taxing sugary drinks – Feb 9, 2016

Canadians should pay a 10 to 20 per cent tax on sugar-sweetened drinks, the Dietitians of Canada said in a new position statement Tuesday.

As global health officials try to crack down on sugar consumption, the national organization suggests the move would make Canadians think twice about buying sugary drinks. They’re calling for an excise tax of up to 20 per cent – that means the tax would be worked into the price consumers would see on store shelves.

“Seeing higher shelf prices on these drinks … will be a bigger deterrent for consumers than a sales tax added at the cash register,” Kate Comeau, registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the DC, said in a statement.

“For the greatest impact, we recommend that taxation measures be combined with other policy interventions, such as increasing access to healthy foods while decreasing access to unhealthy foods in schools, daycares and recreation facilities,” Comeau explained.

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READ MORE: Is taxing sugary drinks the answer to obesity and diabetes epidemics?

She said the dietitians are also calling for restrictions on marketing junk food to kids.

The position statement says the tax would apply to soda, energy drinks and sweetened milk. Fruit juice would not be included.

The position has already been endorsed by various Canadian organizations, such as the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the Canadian Diabetes Association, the Quebec Coalition on Weight-Related Problems and the B.C. Healthy Living Alliance.

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Last year, the World Health Organization dropped the gauntlet on the sugar industry with its updated recommendations: sugar intake should be just five per cent of your total calories, half of what the global health agency recommended years ago.

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READ MORE: Would a 20 per cent tax on your soft drink scare you away from buying?

For an average woman who eats about 2,000 calories a day, that’s rougly 25 grams of sugar – just over half of a can of pop, about two portions of yogurt or an entire Caramilk bar.

The DC notes that a single can of soda contains up to 40 grams – 10 teaspoons – of sugar.

In Mexico, health officials have already slapped a 10 per cent tax on sugary drinks. It started in 2012 – one year later, there was a 12 per cent reduction in sales, researchers suggested.

The average Mexican consumer ended up purchasing 4.2 fewer litres of beverages that fell under the new tax.

READ MORE: Bottoms up? Court weighs reinstating NYC ban on big sugary drinks

In response to the new position statement, the Canadian Beverage Association said it doesn’t support the recommendation. The CBA represents 60,000 beverage industry workers across the country.

“Consumers want factual information to help them make informed choices. A warning that isolates some beverages — independent of all other sources of dietary sugar or calories — as a unique contributor to poor health does not support overall better public health, and in fact, can be misleading,” the association told Global News in an emailed statement.

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Read the Dietitians of Canada’s full position statement here.

– With files from Allison Vuchnich

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