Wednesday, January 11, 2012

No Soda Tax for Canadians

It's a pretty common refrain out there.

Obesity is because we're less active.

And while activity certainly burns calories, doubly labeled water data on energy expenditures suggest that North Americans burn as many calories as folks in the third world, and more importantly, as many calories as we did back in the 70s and 80s when there was a lot less obesity.

Oh, and since the 70s? We're consuming roughly a meal more worth of calories per person per day.

To me the math seems pretty clear, but it may not be happy math. It's way more fun to exercise than to cut back on calories. But weight being about inactivity?  That's what people want to hear as intuitively that makes sense.

And hear it they will. From glossy magazines and newspapers, to loved ones, to god-awful reality television shows and even from ill informed but well intentioned health professionals.

Oh, and also from Canada's Department of Agriculture. We were peeking at a document on their website the other day on food trends for Canadians through 2020 and came across this line,
"Canadians are well aware that their low levels of exercise contribute more to obesity than poor diet"
Uh huh.

And while I realize the Department of Agriculture's job is to protect and promote Canadian agriculture, I would have hoped that intuitive but erroneous misinformation would be something they'd do a better job protecting themselves (and us) against than the average glossy magazine.

What's worrisome of course is the fact that while I'm sure many politicians are exceedingly bright folks, they've got no choice but to rely on these types of reports to help inform their policy decisions.  They're experts in policy, not obesity or nutrition.

Wonder if that's why yesterday Leona Aglukkaq ruled out a sugared soda tax here in Canada. After all, according to Agriculture Canada it's our low levels of exercise that are causing obesity.  Surely the trebling of sugared soda consumption since the early to mid 1960s has nothing to do with it.


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  1. eddy postissue8:49 am

    You write "... I'm sure many politicians are exceedingly bright folks..." - You crack me up!

  2. While I disagree with Aglukkaq comment that Canadians consumers already have "the tools they need to make healthy food choices when they shop for groceries,” I agree with the decision to not impose a soda tax. While my argument is targeted toward food in general it shares similar concerns and considerations for a pop-tax. Below is WHY.

    Taxation policies have been suggested as a means to facilitate the adoption of a healthy diet; which, statistics regarding the diet of Canadians is showing some concerning trends- one of which you have mentioned: soda consumption. Nevertheless, the current research regarding the application of taxes as a means to change food purchasing behaviour is both limited and contradictory:

    Firstly, studies have shown that food purchasing behaviour is generally inelastic- meaning that an increase in price (of foods) will not affect food purchasing behaviours.

    Secondly, one of the main concerns with food taxation policies result from its regressive nature since low-income consumers spends a larger portion of their income on food. As such, taxation policies may pose further financial burdens to those who already struggle to put food on the table. Accordingly, when Canadians were asked what influences their food purchases, approximately 50% of those with a household income of less than $35,000 stated that cost was ‘very important’ (NIN & CFIC, 2004).

    Lastly, taxation policies overlook the influence of the collective determinants of healthy eating. Raine (2005) defined the collective determinants as an interaction between i) the interpersonal environment created by family and peers, ii) the physical environment which determined food availability and accessibility, iii) the economic environment, and iv) the social environment which may be working ‘invisibly” to structure food choice. All of which cannot be accounted for in food taxation policies.

    While there is a need to improve the health and diet of Canadians, taxation policies may create further health inequalities rather than promoting healthy purchasing behaviours. Future policy research should investigate other variables affecting population health behaviours such as, access to grocery stores, income distribution and, education in order to create effective policies that are in the best interest of all members of society and move away from point of purchase penalizing.

    Works cited: Raine KD.(2005). Determinants of Healthy Eating in Canada: An Overview and Synthesis”. The Canadian Journal of Public Health 96.3 (2995):S8-S14