Taxes on sugary drinks have long been a divisive idea, even as they’ve been adopted in U.S. cities, the United Kingdom and Mexico.
Now, experts are probing what it might look like in Canada if sugary drinks were taxed 20 per cent more than healthy ones.
Natalie Riedigier, a professor in the department of food and human nutritional sciences at the University of Manitoba, has been conducting a study in various Winnipeg neighbourhoods, speaking to people from different socioeconomic backgrounds, as well as small business owners who sell sugary beverages.
She acknowledged that the policy is “fairly controversial.”
“Anything specific to taxation draws different opinions from different people,” she said.
Organizations in favour of a levy on sugary drinks have been speaking about the dangers of consuming such beverages for years, warning about rising rates of obesity and diabetes.
The World Health Organization claims that a 20 per cent tax on sugary drinks would lead to a 20 per cent drop in consumption.
In Berkeley, Calif., where taxes on sugary drinks were levied three years ago, the American Public Health Association says there has been a 52 per cent decrease in servings of sugary drinks and a 29 per cent increase in water consumption.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends that no more than 10 per cent of daily recommended calories come from added sugars. For context, one can of pop contains about 10 teaspoons of added sugar – about 85 per cent of a daily serving.
Canada’s new food guide has been revised to focus more on plant-based and natural foods. Nutrition labels, thanks to the revisions, will also have to clearly define sugar amounts.
While some provinces and territories have weighed the idea of a sugar tax, there are no plans to implement one at the federal level.
The Winnipeg study will record public reaction to the idea and, when complete, issue a report on it.