New research by the University of Waterloo commissioned by leading health organizations reveals a levy on sugary drinks would lead to fewer deaths, disabilities, and health care costs. This adds to the growing body of international evidence that supports the health and economic benefits of a sugary drink levy.

The lead researcher on the project, Dr. David Hammond, Associate Professor at the University of Waterloo, made the opportunity clear, saying “a Canadian tax on sugary drinks has the potential to reduce the prevalence of obesity and to improve the health of Canadians, while providing substantial revenue to support other public health measures.”

According to the study, over the next 25 years, a 20 per cent levy on the manufacturers of sugary drinks will result in more than 13,000 lives saved and will prevent:

  • More than 600,000 cases of obesity and almost 100,000 cases of overweight among Canadian adults;
  • Up to 200,000 cases of type 2 diabetes;
  • More than 60,000 cases of ischemic heart disease;
  • More than 20,000 cases of cancer; and
  • More than 8,000 strokes.

In addition to reducing adverse health impacts, it will decrease healthcare costs, and generate needed funding for health programmes that can help Canadians get & stay healthy. They say a levy could save $11.5 billion in health-care costs and generate $43.6 billion ($1.7 billion per year) in government revenue.

We know putting limits on bad food works.

An example close to home for Canadians is their experience with tobacco. Male lung cancer incidence rates have declined since the 1980s. This was largely due to changes including higher taxes, modifying package labels, increasing public education, restrictions on advertising and other approaches—all contributed to dramatically decreasing the number of smokers in Canada to an all-time low of 18 per cent, down from 50 per cent in 1956.

That’s not the only time we’ve seen a tax or levy pay dividends for peoples’ health.

A growing collection of studies show that a levy on sugary beverages decreases consumption. Mexico, France, Hungary, Finland, Norway, Belgium, Chile, Barbados, and an expanding list of jurisdictions in the United States (i.e. Berkeley and Philadelphia) among others have successfully implemented sugar taxes. In Mexico, purchases of taxed beverages have decreased over two consecutive years, while purchases of healthy beverages have increased.

A sugar levy is an idea Canada’s seriously considering right now.

A number of health organizations have proposed a levy on sugary drinks to the federal government for consideration in the upcoming federal budget. This approach would raise revenue for much needed healthy living initiatives that will benefit the health of Canadians, including:

  • subsidizing vegetables and fruit to make them more affordable for Canadian families;
  • ensuring access to safe drinking water and plain low fat milk in Indigenous communities;
  • providing healthy school lunch programs for Canadian students;
  • introducing public education and awareness including food literacy and skills; and
  • implementing physical activity programs.

There is a growing chorus of support in Canada for this approach, with 25 organizations across the country calling for the introduction of a levy on sugary drinks urgently.

The health groups emphasize that a levy is not the only solution to the issue of excess weight and the overall health of Canadians. However, given that Canadians are drinking an unhealthy amount of sugary drinks, which are the single greatest contributor of sugar in our diets—and a significant driver of chronic disease and obesity, a levy is a critical component of a broader strategy to promote healthy eating and drinking.

They say, along with a levy, there should be restrictions on marketing to kids, improving food and menu labelling, providing better access to affordable healthy foods and water, increasing food literacy and preparation skills, as well as public education.

It’s exciting and heartening to see Canada be so bold on such a vital issue.

We’ll be watching next week to see if Bill Morneau announces a healthy Federal Budget—one that’s fit for keeping the next generation healthy. And one that sets Canada on a course to lead the charge in decreasing the booming global obesity epidemic.

What do you think? Should Bill put Canada’s health first?

Let us know @FoodRev

About Ali Morrow

Ali Morrow is the head of editorial and strategy for the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation.