A 20 per cent tax on sugary drinks would save more than 13,000 lives and prevent hundreds of thousands of cases of obesity and serious illness in Canada over the next 25 years, according to a new study.

Research done at the University of Waterloo found that taxing beverages such as pop, energy drinks and even 100-per-cent fruit juices would "go far in reducing death, disability, and health care costs."

The study says that over the next 25 years, a 20 per cent tax would save more than 13,000 lives and prevent more than 600,000 cases of obesity among Canadians. According to the study, the tax would also prevent:

  • Up to 200,000 cases of type 2 diabetes;
  • More than 60,000 cases of ischemic heart disease;
  • More than 20,000 cases of cancer; and
  • More than 8,000 strokes

The loss of nearly half a million "healthy life years" due to illness, disability or early death would also be prevented, the study says.

Researchers also calculated that the sugary drinks tax would account for $11.5 billion in health-care savings and $43.6 billion in government revenue over a quarter-century.

“We know that sugary drinks are a really important health problem,” David Hammond, study co-author and professor at the University of Waterloo’s School of Public Health, told CTV News Channel Thursday.

“They are a source of excess energy intake, they increase obesity and we know that they’re an important cause of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer. (A tax) is a public health measure to try to curb than somewhat.”

Health advocates have been calling on the federal government to tax sugary drinks as a way of curbing Canadians’ intake. According to data from international market research company Euromonitor, Canadians purchased a daily average of 444 ml of sugary drinks per capita in 2015.

Although the total volume of sugary drinks, including 100 per cent fruit juice, sold in Canada remained steady between 2004 and 2015, the per capita sales decreased by about 13 per cent. Meanwhile, the per capita sales volume increased for beverages like energy drinks, sports drinks, sweetened coffee and flavoured water.

“We drink sugary beverages at almost record levels,” Hammond said. “And those levels are highest among youth and young adults.”

The most concerning thing is that sugary drinks have “really become part of our daily diet,” he added.

“We need to go back to just drinking water, milk and products without any added sugars.”

The University of Waterloo researchers note that other countries, including Mexico, France, Norway and Belgium, as well as some jurisdictions in the United States, have implemented sugary drink levies.

In Mexico, where more than 70 per cent of the population is overweight or obese, the tax led to a decrease in sugary drink purchases two years in a row.

Last year, the World Health Organization recommended that countries tax sugary drinks as a way to fight obesity, diabetes and related illnesses.

The UW researchers say that revenue from the sugary beverage tax would raise much-needed funds for "healthy living initiatives," such as subsidizing the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables for Canadians who can’t afford them, providing safe drinking water in indigenous communities, and making sure all Canadian schools have healthy lunch programs.

The research was commissioned by the Canadian Cancer Society, Childhood Obesity Foundation, Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance of Canada, Diabetes Canada and the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

In response to the study, the Canadian Beverage Association issued a statement saying that “consumption taxes have not proven to be successful in terms of obesity reduction.” 

“What works are real, meaningful, co-ordinated efforts by government, industry, and healthcare and consumer stakeholders to implement evidence-based solutions,” the statement said.

The association also said the researchers “assume a relationship between taxation and lower body mass index.”

“While the beverage industry supports efforts to address serious obesity and obesity-related diseases, it is illogical to isolate one single ingredient or product as a unique contributor,” the statement said.