Keep sugary drinks out of city facilities, public health experts say

Should the city ban sugary drinks and related advertising in its facilities? At least one expert says yes.

The city will already look at a related sugary drink ban this spring

Hamilton should take a leap and become one of the first Canadian municipalities to ban sugary drinks in its facilities, and ads promoting them, says the Heart and Stroke Foundation. (Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press)

The Heart and Stroke Foundation wants Hamilton to be a leader in banning sugary drinks in its vending machines, and ads encouraging them. And at least a handful of city councillors seem ready to take the leap.

The charity and one of its chief researchers told the board of health Monday that Hamilton kids face greater risk of obesity, diabetes and other ailments from regular sugary drinks. Kids from low-income families are particularly at risk.

The city can ban sugary drinks from vending machines in its facilities, said Joe Belfontaine, executive director of the Ontario mission. It can also ban sugary drink ads. He even wants the city to look into limiting the size or number of refills local restaurants can offer.

"We're looking for cities to do everything they can to denormalize how much sugar is around us at any given time," Belfontaine said.

The city is already looking into a related plan. Last summer, councillors voted to have public health staff look into the feasibility of banning extra large sugary drinks. The move would restrict portion sizes of sugar-loaded beverages to no more than 500 millilitres (16 ounces).

Julie Emili, associate medical officer of health, said health staff are still discussing what that report will entail. It'll likely come in May.

How much the city can actually do on this issue is unclear. It would need a legal opinion to make any moves outside of banning ads and pop in its own vending machines.

But Belfontaine and Sonia Anand, McMaster University's heart and stroke chair in population health and epidemiology, compared it to smoking. Municipalities led the charge with moves such as banning smoking in bars and restaurants, they said.

"I don't think we should just say it's somebody else's problem to fix," said Anand.

Matthew Green, Ward 3 councillor, said it's worth examining. The debate last year "inspired me to look at my own consumption," he said. And he noticed an immediate difference.

Tom Jackson of Ward 6, meanwhile, suggested residents should choose for themselves.

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