Nfld. & Labrador

Tax on sugary drinks not best way to improve health: N.L. Senator

Newfoundland and Labrador Senator David Wells says he disagrees with a tax on sugary drinks, and says there are better methods to improve the health of Canadians.

'I don't necessarily think that taxing sugary drinks will create the effect that many ... hope'

Newfoundland and Labrador Senator David Wells says he doesn't think a tax on sugary drinks is the best way to help Canadians lead a healthier lifestyle. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

A recent Senate report on health and obesity in Canada is calling for a tax on sugary drinks, but one of Newfoundland and Labrador's senators disagrees with the sugar tax.

Senator David Wells said he has an interest in healthy living and sat in on the hearings of the Senate committee that wrote the report.

"I agree with the objective of all the recommendations, which is to help people consider a healthier lifestyle, with respect to what they eat and what they do," he said.

"But, I don't necessarily think that taxing sugary drinks will create the effect that many on the committee, and many of the witnesses, hope."

Wells said that he is generally not in favour of any type of tax increase, and thinks other measures could be more effective in curbing sugar consumption and improving the health of Canadians. 

Mixed results

He said that similar taxes on sugary drinks in other jurisdictions have had mixed results. 

Wells said in Berkeley, California, when taxes were raised on sugary drinks, suppliers simply reduced their prices so consumers saw no difference on store shelves.

He said not supporting the tax is not a political issue for him, it's about improving Canadian health.

"The question of healthy Canadians is a lifestyle issue, it's an issue that we all should be concerned about," Wells said. 

Other strategies necessary in addition to tax

Dr. Tracey Bridger, a St. John's pediatric endocrinologist, agrees with placing a tax on sugar-laden beverages, as long as it is part of a more comprehensive plan.

"Taxing sugary drinks and not doing anything else is not a good idea, but I think if it's part of a big package of things, I think it could be very successful," said Bridger.

Dr. Tracey Bridger says a tax on sugary drinks could be effective as part of a larger package of strategies to improve health. (CBC)

Bridger said that there are good studies that show connections between high sugar consumption and obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

She said that in her work with children, eliminating sugary drinks has made for significant improvements in health within a few months.

Canada currently ranks fifth in the world when it comes to the number of obese adults.

The Senate report, called Obesity in Canada, makes 20 other recommendations in addition to the tax on sugary drinks, including a ban on food and drink ads aimed at children, and government subsidies for healthy food. 

With files from Crosstalk