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Beverage companies must do more to reduce calories on sugary drinks: Conference Board

Click to play video: 'Halifax children’s hospital stops selling sugary drinks' Halifax children’s hospital stops selling sugary drinks
WATCH ABOVE: The IWK Health Centre in Halifax has stopped selling soft drinks and juices, in order to promote healthier diets for young patients and staff. Rebecca Lau reports – Jun 8, 2016

OTTAWA – A top economic research organization says Canada’s beverage industry will have to do more than rely on recent trends to reach its target for reducing the calories people consume through soft drinks and other similar products amid concerns over obesity rates.

The Conference Board of Canada says the daily consumption of calories through non-alcoholic and non-dairy beverages, not including coffee and tea, dropped by 20 per cent per capita between 2004 and 2014, largely from the marketing of low-calorie options.

The industry wants to reduce caloric intake from its products by a further 20 per cent by 2025, and asked the conference board to monitor its progress as a third-party verifier.

But the board says consumer trends alone will only get the Canadian Beverage Association about half way to its target under what it’s calling a balance calories initiative.

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READ MORE: PepsiCo sets target to reduce sugar in soft drinks

In 2014, Canadians consumed an average 142.5 calories per day from beverages such as energy drinks, juice, soft drinks and even bottled water, according to the board.

The Canadian Obesity Network blames increased rates of obesity and obesity-related diseases such as Type 2 diabetes on what it calls the “skyrocketing” consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, including pop or soda, over the past three decades.

If that trend is to change further, the beverage industry will have to do much more, said the conference board.

“Ensuring that Canadians attain a healthy weight will require a multi-sector approach including voluntary industry initiatives,” said Michael Bloom, the board’s vice-president, industry and business strategy.

“Although only a small and declining portion of daily calories consumed by Canadians is from refreshments beverages, the percentage of Canadian adults who are overweight continues to rise.”

READ MORE: World Health Organization urges countries to put tax on sugary drinks

While the report makes no specific recommendations for how caloric intake can be reduced, it points to several measures that have had an impact in shifting trends.

They include the introduction of more low-calorie beverage products, using smaller-format packaging, clearer labelling of beverages for calorie content, limiting distribution of high-calorie offerings in schools and restricting marketing aimed at children.

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Meantime, the federal government has weighed the pros and cons of a tax on sugary drinks as a financial deterrent aimed at curbing obesity rates.

VIDEO: A new study out of the U.S. links soft drink consumption with aggressive and withdrawn behaviour in young children. Global National’s Health Specialist, Dr. Ali Zentner explains.

During pre-budget consultations prior to the introduction of the Liberal government’s first budget in March, the Heart and Stroke Foundation urged Ottawa to impose a tax of five cents per 100 millilitres on sugar-sweetened beverages.

The foundation argued that such a levy would be a sustainable source of tax revenue that would generate $1.8 billion annually for the federal treasury.

READ MORE: Liberals weighing pros and cons of a soft drink tax

In Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s spring budget, the Trudeau government pledged to help “families make better food choices” by adding more details on food labels about sugars and artificial dyes in processed products. It made no mention of imposing taxes on sugary or fatty foods and beverages.

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But Morneau’s office requested an internal analysis last winter to explore the “issues and impacts in respect of a potential tax on soft drinks,” according to a Jan. 29 briefing note prepared for the minister and later obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

The conference board made no mention of a soft drink tax in its report, which was to be released Monday.

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