Sugar consumption survey shows 'glimmer of good news'

Prince Edward Islanders are consuming less sugar, according to a new report from Statistics Canada, but an Island dietitian says it is not all good news.

Consumption down on P.E.I., but not as much as in most provinces

Baked goods are a major source of added sugars for Prince Edward Islanders. (Mondelez International)

Prince Edward Islanders are consuming less sugar, according to a new report from Statistics Canada, but an Island dietitian says it is not all good news.

The latest release from the Canadian Community Health Survey shows in 2015 Islanders were consuming 14 per cent less sugar than they were in 2004.

"We can be optimistic and say this is a glimmer of good news," said Prof. Jennifer Taylor, a dietitian at the University of Prince Edward Island.

"With the new Canada Food Guide coming out recommending that we cut back on sugars this would say that we're moving in that direction and that's a very good thing."

But Taylor pointed out that P.E.I. did not do as well as most provinces. Nationally Canadians are consuming 17 per cent less sugar. Only New Brunswick and Manitoba recorded smaller declines.

She also noted the declines varied widely among different demographic groups. People 30 and younger, with the exception of the very young, had bigger declines in consumption than people over 30. Women, who were already eating less sugar than men, widened the gap.

"The message is getting out to some groups but not others and obviously we still need to do some work there," said Taylor.


Measuring what people are eating has never been easy, said Taylor, and telling someone something is bad for them can increase the likelihood that they won't report having eaten it.

"If I asked you what you had on the weekend you might be more likely to tell me that you had fruit with your breakfast on Sunday but you might not tell me that you had a bag of chips Saturday night," she said.

Sometimes when we see declines it's that people aren't being honest about what they are eating, says Jennifer Taylor. (CBC)

Statistics Canada attempts to compensate for this by measuring the calories that people report and, given their size and weight and activity levels, determine if that matches up with the number of calories they could be expected to be eating.

People with large mismatches are eliminated from the survey, and Statistics Canada says there was an increase in under-reporting in 2015. Taylor said the system isn't perfect, and it can't be ruled out that some of the decline is actually people not reporting what they're eating.

"They have found that in other countries, like Australia, as well. When we see these declines it's that people are not telling us," she said.

Getting the sugar out

There is more that could be done to reduce consumption of sugar, Taylor said.

One issue is the way sugar consumption is defined in Canada. Foods are labelled with total sugars, but the main concern of dietitians is free or added sugars, and not what is naturally found in foods like apples or carrots.

Because these aren't sorted out in food labelling, said Taylor, it can be difficult to know how much added sugar you are eating.

Another strategy, and this one is in the works at the federal level, is putting in place measures to make marketing directly to youth more difficult.

As long as heavily sweetened foods are cheaply available, curbing consumption will be a challenge, says Taylor. (Gary Cameron/Reuters)

"We know that digital marketing, online marketing, has become a huge problem for children and teens," said Taylor.

"We know that if they really advertise their products, and offer benefits and games to go with it that, children and teens are more likely to choose those products."

Price is another huge aspect of the problem, she said.

"As long as these things are easy to get, and are cheap, and they appeal to our biologic liking for sweet, it's going to be super hard to get consumption down," she said.

Taylor would like to see a tax on foods with high levels of added sugar.

Not one of these strategies is likely to have a major impact on its own, she said, and she would like to see a multi-pronged approach, copying methods that have been so successful with tobacco.

More P.E.I. news


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