Manitoba

Would you cut down on sugary drinks if they carried special tax? U of M researcher asks

Natalie Riediger, a researcher at the University of Manitoba, wants to know how consumers feel about a tax on sugary drinks, and whether it would change their behaviour?

Targeted tax can lower consumption, reduce obesity: World Health Organization

WHO urges global action, including taxation, to decrease consumption and health problems connected with sugary drinks (Marianne Klowak)

Think twice before you hit back that cold can of pop. 

According to a 2016 report by the World Health Organization, consumption of free sugars, including products such as pop and other sugary drinks, is a major factor in the global increase of people suffering from obesity and diabetes. 

The WHO says a 20-per-cent increase in the retail price of sugary drinks would result in a proportional decrease in the amount people consume.

Natalie Riediger, a researcher at the University of Manitoba, is carrying out a three-year study into the acceptability of a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. She is recruiting participants in Manitoba who are over 18, speak English and live in River Heights.

"I am just trying to get a diverse range of perspectives so River Heights struck me as very much a middle class to upper class part of the city," Riediger said.

She admits people in River Heights would be considered well educated, well off and likely aware of the consequences of sugary beverages.

University of Manitoba researcher Natalie Riediger is currently working on a survey to determine whether there is a link between sugary drink taxation and reduced consumption. (Courtesy of the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences, University of Manitoba )
"I want to be able to contrast what people in River Heights say compared to what people in the North End say. We will be in the North End as well. We are also doing interviews in Flin Flon right now," Riediger said. 

Riediger's research goes well beyond the borders of Canada, including India and the state of Michigan in the United States.

Riediger says India's rate of Type 2 diabetes is expected to increase significantly in the future. India, she says, is one of the largest global producers of sugar cane.

And she's interested in finding out whether the water crisis in Flint, Mich., which saw the city's drinking supply contaminated with lead and other pollutants, has led to an increase in the consumption of sugary drinks. 

"Are these people drinking more sugary beverages? We are interested in the perceptions of people in Michigan," Riediger said. "I think it's important everybody's voice is heard on this proposed policy because everybody is affected differently by different policies."

Riediger says First Nations communities, where water contamination problems have been around for decades, will also be asked whether sugary drink consumption has increased as a result.

Riediger was a professor in community health sciences at the U of M's medical campus for two years before she started in food and nutritional sciences last summer.

She also had an interest in food from a young age: Her family owned Riediger Grocery store on Isabel Street. The store closed down seven years ago.

Riediger, who has a background in public health, has also researched the link between tobacco use and taxation.

Just as taxes on tobacco contributed to a stigma about smoking, she and the team working with her are wondering whether taxing sugary drinks will lead to a stigma regarding obesity. Her team is also gleaning data from Statistics Canada in terms of who drinks what types of drinks and how that has changed over time.

The move to implement a sugary drink tax has been endorsed by Heart and Stroke Foundations across the country as well as Diabetes Canada. 

However, there  are those who don't think such a tax would free up money to invest in health care.

Riediger is working with a team of seven other researchers on the massive project which is expected to take three years. In total, the group has received $700,000 in grants. 

Riediger is hoping to recruit about 90 people for the research. Participants will be required to attend a one-hour interview and will receive an honorarium for taking part .Those interested can contact: sugartax@umanitoba.ca

Marianne Klowak

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