The other day I went to a meeting to discuss the GNWT’s idea of introducing a tax on sugary drinks. The territorial government wants to help reduce things like obesity, diabetes and poor oral health. Yay, hooray, good idea.

One of the first things we learned is that the government thinks it might not even make enough money to cover the cost of running the tax program.

Say what? You mean they’re not just doing it to make money? No, it’s because the NWT has the highest obesity rate in Canada. In fact, nearly two thirds of our population is overweight. Holy moly. That’s obscene.

And of course, there’s an explosion of obesity and diabetes in the Indigenous population – which is mostly preventable!

Naturally, people in the beverage industry say raising the price of sugary drinks won’t make a difference in the amount of sugary drinks people consume. Whoa!

Well, if that’s true then why are they lobbying so strongly against a tax on sugary drinks? Right across Canada.

Apparently, the GNWT looked at 160 studies and concluded that increasing the price of soda pop would decrease consumption.

I agree. Raising the price of cigarettes and alcohol helped lower consumption of those products. So, it’s a good bet that raising the cost of sugary drinks would result in people drinking less of them, which should lead to improved health for a lot of people we know. Woohoo.

Don’t forget, we’re talking about people’s lives here.

I know people who became blind, others who had hands or feet removed and one who had both hands and feet amputated because of diabetes. So, I have no problem in saying that I support the tax 100 per cent.

Breaker: Dietitians call for tax on sugary drinks

Calls for taxes on sugary drinks are coming from an awful lot of people who are very knowledgeable about how harmful sugar and obesity can be.

For instance, in 2016 Dietitians of Canada called for a tax on pop, chocolate milk, vitamin water and other sugar-sweetened drinks that contribute to obesity. Yay for the dietitians.

But the GNWT has to do more than just put in a tax. It sure makes sense to me when the Dietitians say the government needs to combine the tax with other things, like increasing access to healthy foods while decreasing access to unhealthy foods in schools, daycares and recreation facilities.

For instance, junk food and sugary drinks are sold in Yellowknife sports facilities. Think about it; we bring our kids to skate, do gymnastics and play soccer, then we buy them a pop and chips.

I wouldn’t even call that stuff food. In fact, it’s some of the worst things to buy for our kids – for anybody. Not cool man.

So, yes, the GNWT needs to take action to stop sugary drinks and other junk food from being provided in schools, daycares and recreation facilities.

Dietitians of Canada also want restrictions on marketing foods and beverages to children and funding to support effective, long-term educational initiatives.

What a novel idea! Let’s educate kids on healthy eating instead of providing unhealthy foods in school!

Dietitians have lots of support. Their position on the tax was endorsed by the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the Canadian Diabetes Association, the Childhood Obesity Foundation, the Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance of Canada, the Quebec Coalition on Weight-Related Problems and the B.C. Healthy Living Alliance.

Obesity crisis in Canada

And that’s not all! In March 2016, the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology released a report called, “Obesity in Canada – A Whole-of-Society Approach for a Healthier Canada.”

What did the Senate Standing Committee find? The report states, “There is an obesity crisis in this country. Canadians are paying for it with their wallets — and with their lives.” Eschia.

The committee demonstrated the vast scope of this epidemic:

Every year more Canadians die from conditions linked to being overweight than there are people living in the entire NWT; Nearly two thirds of adults and one third of children are obese or overweight. Holy cow! And obesity costs Canada between $4.6 and $7.1 billion annually in health care costs and lost productivity.

The standing committee agrees with the dietitians that a national campaign is needed to combat obesity. Well, yaaaaaaaaa.

And guess what? Yup, you nailed it. The senators said the campaign should include a tax on sugar-sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages and a ban on food advertising that targets children.

Let’s hope the GNWT takes the opportunity to lead the country by implementing taxes on sugary drinks along with a territorial campaign to fight obesity.

After all, this tax is about the health of people we know and love, not about how much money some people make selling sugary drinks.

Roy Erasmus

Roy Erasmus Sr. Is a certified wellness counsellor who survived heart disease and a former member of the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories.

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