News / Edmonton

Tax on sugary drinks would save Alberta millions, advocates say

The Alberta Policy Coalition for Chronic Disease Prevention is renewing calls for a levy following new research

Karen Boyd, executive director of Dietitians of Canada, Alberta, and the Territories, is advocating for a 20% tax on sugary drinks.

Kevin Tuong / Edmonton Freelance

Karen Boyd, executive director of Dietitians of Canada, Alberta, and the Territories, is advocating for a 20% tax on sugary drinks.

A coalition of health advocates is pushing for an end to sweet deals on sugary drinks.

The Alberta Policy Coalition for Chronic Disease Prevention is calling for a 20 per cent levy on sugar-sweetened drinks, after a University of Waterloo study showed the tax could save Alberta billions.

According to the report, the levy would save Alberta’s healthcare system $1.1 billion over a 25-year period by preventing cases of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer and stroke.

The levy itself would bring in about $3.5 billion in tax revenue over the same period.

“That healthcare spending is skyrocketing, due in large measure to high rates of chronic disease, is not news to anyone these days. The time to act is now,” said Karen Boyd, regional executive director of Dietitians of Canada, Alberta and the Territories.

The report states Alberta’s consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is significantly higher than the national average, while its consumption of “100 per cent juice” is significantly lower – though it does not give reasons for the discrepancy.

Boyd said the food industry’s aggressive marketing of sugary drinks to youth has shifted from pop to other products, like energy drinks and pre-sweetened tea and coffee beverages.

“They’re constantly creating and reformulating beverages for different target audiences,” she said. “In truth, globally the consumption of pop is coming down, but the consumption of these other categories of sugar sweetened beverages is going up.”

The biggest sugar-drinkers are males aged 14-18, who are mostly drawn to pop and energy drinks, and women aged 19-30, who are more likely to drink sweetened juices.

“Maybe they’re thinking fruit drinks are actually healthier than pop or energy drinks, but they’re not,” Boyd said.

Kate Chidester, vice president of advocacy, health and research with Heart and Stroke Alberta, NWT and Nunavut, said the cans and bottles on store shelves are also increasing in volume.

“Today’s drink sizes would have once been a special treat for an entire family,” Chidester said.

Boyd said the Northwest Territories government has committed to discussing a levy, but no province or territory has implemented the tax.

More on Metronews.ca