Curbing obesity requires government measures says report
Toronto – A study led by University of Toronto nutritional scientists is calling on the Canadian government to outlaw junk food marketing to children, impose stricter limits on unhealthy nutrients added to foods and impose a "sugary drink tax."
Professor Mary L'Abbé, chair of the Department of Nutritional Sciences and Banting postdoctoral fellow Lana Vanderlee made the recommendations in a newly released report, called the Food-EPI Study, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. In it, they examined Canada's progress on obesity-curbing measures compared with other countries.
They found that Canada performed well on some important measures, such as political leadership to support healthy eating, and transparency in developing food policies (which if secretive can lead to undue influence by the food industry), the university said in a news release.
Despite the good news, there were notable disparities between provinces, with Quebec having the most progressive food policies, including a restriction of junk-food marketing to children, and some other provinces failing to do as much to protect residents. Even the foods and drinks that can be sold in schools varied across provinces and territories. Overall, Ontario fared roughly in the middle of the pack.
Health Canada has recently announced new policies to address areas where it trails its peers, the release said. However, there are a number of areas where there are almost no policies or programs at any level of government.
"Even if we're meeting Most Unexceptional practices in some areas, we shouldn't get complacent," Vanderlee said in the release. "Canada doesn't have taxes on unhealthy foods, such as sugary drinks, even though the evidence from other countries suggests these work. If we don't move on this front, we're going to fall behind."
Mexico, which has some of the world's highest child obesity rates, is seeing success with a soda tax, and other countries are following suit, she said. The United Kingdom is on the verge of implementing such a tax, and South Africa just announced one.
"Most of the evidence indicates that sugary drinks are among the biggest contributors to sugar consumption and play an important role in weight gain," Vanderlee said. "You don't get as full when you're drinking your calories and it's easy to consume a lot of sugar in a short time."
The federal government also currently imposes no restrictions on marketing junk food to children, L'Abbe said, although they have announced impending regulations as part of the Healthy Eating Strategy.
Asking for voluntary industry co-operation to make foods healthier, with less sodium, hasn't worked well in the past for all foods, L'Abbé said. The Canadian government hasn't made any voluntary or mandatory restrictions on the amount of sugar or saturated fat in foods either, nor have officials set any targets for levels in restaurant foods.
"The evidence is mounting that these kinds of government interventions work," Vanderlee said. She recommended Canada develop a comprehensive and co-ordinated strategy to combat obesity and diet-related diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
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