Liberals need to move quicker on obesity report: Senate committee

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OTTAWA – The Senate says the Liberal government is not acting quickly enough to combat the growing problem of obesity.

“We urge them to reconsider. The health of Canadians is at stake,” Conservative Sen. Kelvin Ogilvie said Friday.

The standing Senate committee on social affairs, science and technology, which Ogilvie chairs, made the rather unusual move of issuing a news release that amounted to a thanks-but-no-thanks reaction to the way the Liberal government responded to its March report on obesity in Canada.

READ MORE: Is ‘healthy obesity’ a myth? You can’t be fit but fat, study warns

The report called on the government to help people lead healthier lifestyles by, among other things, banning food and beverage ads aimed at children, figuring out how to use infrastructure funding to encourage more pedestrian-friendly communities and exploring the possibility of a tax on soda pop.

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Health Minister Jane Philpott and Sport Minister Carla Qualtrough told the committee in a letter earlier this month they agreed with the recommendations in principle, highlighting ongoing work in their departments, program funding announced in the federal budget and future plans included in their mandate letters.

They said the government would continue to monitor emerging evidence on whether a tax on beverages containing added sugar or artificial sweeteners would be effective.

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However, as The Canadian Press revealed earlier this month, the Finance Department weighed the pros and cons of such a tax ahead of the Mar. 22 budget, but decided against it.

In their letter, which the Senate clerk received on Aug. 5, the ministers said the government is committed to fighting obesity and helping Canadians live healthier lives.

Ogilvie did not think so, especially since they did not give clear timelines for action.

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“Our report makes it clear that the status quo is not acceptable,” Ogilvie said in an interview Friday.

READ MORE: Get the entire family involved in tackling childhood obesity: Canadian report

The report called obesity a crisis and an epidemic, saying that between 48,000 and 66,000 Canadians die each year from diseases or conditions linked to being overweight. It urged the federal government to lead a national campaign to combat the problem.

“The minister’s list of activities that are ongoing — many of them are very good, but they’re obviously inadequate to deal with the fact that two-thirds of (adult) Canadians are oversight or obese, leading to, as time goes by in their lives, diminished quality of life and significant health-care costs,” Ogilvie said.

Spokespeople for Philpott and Qualtrough did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

Ogilvie said letting his dissatisfaction be known is a way to increase awareness not only about the issue, but also about the work of the Senate.

“The press and the public has wondered: what the blazes does the Senate do anyway?” Ogilvie said.

“The Senate does many of these reports on issues very critical to the country. We do them as advice to government and governments respond as they are required to do . . . and nothing ever happens and it goes away and nobody really cares,” he said.

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“But the issues are very important and I think the Senate has decided that if it is going to have its work recognized by the public, then it has got to do more to get the message across in terms of the items it signs,” he said.