Dr. Freedhoff discusses a potential soda tax with Canada AM
CTV Canada AM - September 17th, 2009
CTV - CANADA AM
Thu Sep 17 2009, 7:18am ET
Byline: Seamus O'Regan, Bev Thomson
O'REGAN: Health experts are saying that soft drinks that cost you, could cost you your health and they should cost you more money. It's an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and it's calling for a new tax on soft drinks. Researchers say it'll help to shrink waistlines and offset the health care costs associated with obesity. To discuss if this is going to help Canadians battle the bulge, or if the idea will fizz out, we are joined by one of Canada's most outspoken obesity experts, Dr. Yoni Freedhoff. Good to talk to you.
DR. YONI FREEDHOFF (Bariatric Medical Institute): Good morning, Seamus.
O'REGAN: A pop tax, would it work?
FREEDHOFF: Yeah, a pop tax. It should work. At the very least, it'll generate a significant amount of revenue that if directed properly could help fund obesity prevention programs or subsidize healthier meals, improve school cafeterias, what the proposal in the New England Journal is, is that we put a one cent per ounce tax. Now, for us Canadians, in terms of ounces, there's eight ounces in a glass, and so for one of those larger bottles of pop, there'd be 20 ounces, and that would be a 20 cent increase in cost for that particular bottle.
O'REGAN: But surely...
FREEDHOFF: Sounds like a bit of money.
O'REGAN: Not on, not on diet drinks. We're talking about the sugar-laden ones, is that it?
FREEDHOFF: That's right. Only sugar sweetened beverages, and so, one of those large bottles of Coca-Cola actually has seven teaspoons of added sugar, and if you get one of the larger bottles of sport drinks, because those are alsoincluded in this proposal, sugar sweetened sport drinks like Gatorade.
FREEDHOFF: Gatorade, one of those larger bottles has eleven teaspoons of sugar in it, and so, the proposal wouldn't just be for Coca-Cola and other pops. It would be for sport drinks as well, really anything that had sugar sweeteners added. So juice drinks, as well, would be under that umbrella.
O'REGAN: Dr. Freedhoff, are they that bad that we would relegate sugar soft drinks in the same category, really, as tobacco and alcohol?
FREEDHOFF: I think so. So there was a study that was done that showed for every beverage, sugar sweetened beverage the child consumes per day, theirrisk of obesity goes up by 60 percent, which is really quite a phenomenal number. And it's been linked quite tightly to coronary artery disease as well as diabetes. And these are effects that are there even when we take out the affect of the added weight that we would see in these individuals as well. And so I think it's a very clear cut target. The beverage industry likes to say, well, you know, you can't just point at soft drinks. This is complex problem. It's unfair and it's not right to single us out. But, you know, the saying is, is that no single raindrop thinks it's responsible for the flood, and you know, soft drinks and sugar sweetened beverages are a very big fat raindrop, and there's nothing wrong with trying to deal with that. And just because getting rid of soft brinks likely won't get rid of the entire problem doesn't mean we shouldn't do it, just like legislating seat belt use didn't get rid of traffic accidents, it didn't make it an unsound policy.
O'REGAN: So, any added revenue that the government would get from a pop tax should go where?
FREEDHOFF: Well, so the proposal in the New England Journal is, is that we need to actually ensure that the money that would be generated from such tax would be used properly. It wouldn't be like Ontario's so-called health tax, which seems to go to fund our sewer system. It would be something real, and so it would go to fund obesity prevention programs, subsidizing healthy foods, perhaps school food lunch programs in Canada. This is not an insignificant amount of money that would be generated. If we can take the American extrapolations, and sort of divide them by ten, because we're about a tenth the size, as far as population goes.
FREEDHOFF: This ought to generate in Canada about $1.5 billion a year. That is not an insignificant amount of money, but it won't really hit us our own pocket books dramatically. The average Canadians drinking 70 litres of sugar sweetened pop per year, and so that would be an additional cost for the entire year of 20 bucks. But given that we've got a lot of people who are drinking pop, those $20, here and there, will add up quite dramatically over the course of the year.
O'REGAN: Indeed. Dr. Freedhoff, thanks so much. Appreciate your time.
FREEDHOFF: Thank you, Seamus.