Facing rising obesity rates and fierce criticism of the Canada Food Guide, a senate committee issued a number of recommendations to the federal government to help Canadians slim down–including by taxing sugary foods and drinks.
Though the idea of a consumption tax on foods deemed unhealthy–often called a sugar tax or fat tax–is not new, it hasn’t been implemented at a federal level in Canada.
Sen. Kelvin Ogilvie, chair of the senate’s Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, said that tackling obesity is important because of how it can lead to other, more serious health issues, and a decline in quality of life.
“We can’t sugar coat it any longer,” Ogilvie said at an event in Ottawa. “The obesity crisis is real.”
The number of obese adults has doubled in Canada since 1980 while the number of obese children has tripled, the report noted.
Each year 48,000 to 66,000 Canadians die from conditions linked to excess weight, it added.
During the committee’s hearings on the subject, witneses testified that the Canada Food Guide has been ineffective, with some even charging that it has been responsible for rising levels of diet-related issues and unhealthy weights.
Among the prospective remedies proposed by the committee was a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, specifically, as well as a ban on advertising food and beverage products to children.
Critics of the plan say that this amounts to little more than a cash grab, however.
“The only thing a sugar tax will make thinner are Canadians’ wallets,” said Aaron Wudrick, federal director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. “Good intentions do not always translate into good policy, and the record of these types of taxes in other jurisdiction leaves much to be desired.”
Wudrick noted that the senate report touched on an ill-fated experiment in Denmark, implemented a “fat tax” in 2011, but abandoned it just 13 months later after it led to a huge spike in cross border shopping in Germany, severely harming Danish businesses.