Is it (finally) time for Canadians to impose a sugar tax?


This week’s post comes from Dr. Allana LeBlanc. Allana is a Post Doctoral Fellow with the University of Ottawa Heart Institute and the Communications Director for the CON SNP Exec. This post was cross posted on Obesity Panacea

When will the sugar tax come to Canada?

It’s become a question of when and not if we will start taxing sugar sweetened beverages like Coke and Pepsi. Let’s just hope Canadians are a bit quicker on jumping on the bandwagon for this than they were for the implementation of banning trans fats.

Taxes on sugar sweetened beverages (commonly known as SSBs) have gone from debate, to reality in many European countries, and many cities across the United States. In Canada, we’re dragged our heels so much that trenches have started to appear. No really.  Forget implementation, we’ve only gotten so far as to hear recommendations on perhaps/maybe/sometime-in-the-near-future implementing such a tax (namely in the recent Senate report on Obesity in Canada, although there no timeline included in the report).

The main point of contention has been between “big soda” and health care providers/researchers/clinicians/community members. I’ll let you guess who has more money to put towards the cause. Let’s just remember that increase in taxation has made the single largest contribution to decrease in tobacco smoking worldwide (Gravely et al, 2017) .

As far back as 2014, the city of Berkley, California approved the implementation of a tax on SSBs. Specifically, they voted for a tax of $0.01 USD per fluid ounce on beverages with added caloric sweeteners. So if you think of your typical can of Coke, you’re looking at an increase in$0.12. The tax officially went into effect March 2015 and has now expanded to numerous other cities in the US (e.g., San Francisco, and Chicago metro center). The implementation of the tax provided researchers with a unique chance to look at consumer spending habits pre- and post-taxation. The results of this study were published yesterday in PLOS Medicine.  Specifically, they compared records from 15.5 million checkouts between purchases in Berkely, and comparable cities. They also completed a telephone survey of Berkely residents spending habits and self-reported consumption of SSB.

Main outcome measures were changes in price (i.e., cents per ounce), consumer spending, and usual beverage intake in terms of kilocalories per day. Basically, did the tax do anything?

What were the main findings? (taken from the paper, sodas _ g l o b a l i z a t i o n _ Flickremphasis is mine)

  • “In the 15.5 million supermarket checkouts studied, 67% of the amount of the tax was passed on to consumers across all SSBs, and the tax was fully passed through for sodas and energy drinks; in the 26-store survey, the tax was more than fully passed on in Berkeley large and small chain groceries and gas stations, especially for carbonated beverages; partially passed on in pharmacies; and not passed on in small independent gas stations and corner stores.
  • Sales in ounces of taxed SSBs fell by 9.6% [p>0.001] in relation to predicted sales in the absence of the tax, while sales of untaxed beverages rose 3.5% and total beverage sales rose in Berkeley. Consumer spending per transaction (average grocery bill) did not increase, nor did store revenue fall more in Berkeley, while SSB sales rose 6.9% in comparison cities.
  • Berkeley residents were low consumers of SSBs at baseline (consuming only 34% of the national average of SSBs). Dietary intake surveys [i.e. self-report measures] found shifts of −19.8% (p = 0.49) in mean daily SSB intake (grams) and −13.3% (p = 0.56) in mean calories from SSBs that were not statistically significant, while caloric intake of untaxed beverages (milk and other diary-based beverages) increased.

As the authors noted, even before the survey, Berkely residents drank less SSBs than the national average in the U.S. and they still saw an almost 10% reduction in sales of SSB. They also saw an almost 16% rise in sales of bottled water. While I don’t necessarily agree with bottled water from an environmental perspective, this is a huge step in changing consumer taste preferences (and therefore shopping habits). Although change self-reported consumption of SSBs did not reach significance, consumers were buying less, so maybe they didn’t even realize their consumption went down?

Finally, and perhaps the most important result in seeing widespread implementation of this type of taxation, consumer spending fell LESS in Berkely than in cities that did not implement the tax. Consumers just shifted their spending habits to include more non-taxed beverages like water, milk, and fruit juice.

Win. Win. Win.


Featured image by Mike Mozart.

Read More

Five Things to Love about Nutrition Month 2017: Take the Fight out of Food!


Melissa Fernandez is the Chapter Representative for the CON SNP National Executive, a PhD student at Université Laval, and a registered dietitian. She is the regional representative for Nutrition Month in Quebec City. You can find out more about Melissa here.

The Dietitians of Canada have been hosting Nutrition Month for over 30 years and every year it gets better with more resources, more partners and more engagement from the public.

1.    A great strategy

This year’s theme highlights the fact that a lot of Canadians have daily struggles with making healthy food choices for themselves and their loved ones, and this does NOT need to be the case. Eating and feeding your family doesn’t have to be a “fight”, so the Dietitians have Canada outlined three steps to help overcome common challenges:

  1. Spot the problem.
  2. Get the facts.
  3. Seek support.

Check out the free fact-sheets for examples!

2.    Free resources and tools for the public

No need to be a member of professional association to access credible healthy eating resources. The Dietitians of Canada provide free resources and tools available for download by private institutions, health professionals and the public. A team spends an entire year developing content and attractive material to put into these resources, which fit very conveniently into workplace health programs, educational settings or community services. There are healthy recipes, ambassador toolkits, “Take the Pledge” certificates, ready-to-use ads, messages for Twitter, posters, fact-sheets and videos. Personally, my favorite resource are the recipes that come out every year. They look delicious! For a full list of free resources check-out the Nutrition Month website.

3.    National mobilization

From coast to coast, dietitians are putting out the same messages and creating awareness about healthy eating. This type of mass-media health promotion strategy is a winner. A single overarching message, that is being reinforced and repeated by multiple national partners and individual dietitians, avoids confusing the public with different messaging about food and healthy eating.

4.    Events all month long!

Dietitians and organizations in cities across Canada put together special activities for the public from conferences to kiosks. These activities are hosted in schools, work places, communities, and by health professional or groups of people interested in creating awareness about healthy eating. In Quebec, our local Nutrition-Month committee has partnered with the Institute of Nutrition and Functional Foods to host activities for the public, for our affiliates and for local dietitians. Check out the Canada Activity Map to find out what’s going on in your area.

5.    Recognition of professionals

Dietitians belong to professional associations and have to be licenced to practice and provide primary care, private consulting services or information to the public. As part of licencing requirements, dietitians update their skills on a regular basis so that they stay abreast of the latest science and best standards in their field of practice. They are the most qualified professionals to provide you with information about nutrition and your diet. Every year, to recognize dietitians across Canada, the second Wednesday of March is “Dietitians Day”. This year, on March 15, dietitians across the country opened their ears to the public.

We’re nearing the end of nutrition month, but that’s no reason to end your commitment to eating better. Small changes to your diet sustained throughout the year can have big impacts on your well-being.

Spread the word about Nutrition Month and stay tuned for March 2018!


Read More

Staying Active for Good Mental Health: Why Students Should Exercise During Exam Season


Today’s post comes from Andrew Hanna. Andrew is a M.Sc Candidate at Western University in the Department of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. His research  focuses on the benefits of exercise to treat chronic disease, specifically depression and other mental illnesses. 

Finding time to stay physically active in university can be difficult. The balance between maintaining healthy day-to-day habits and academic responsibilities places students in a dilemma, since prolonged periods of studying generally require long bouts of sedentary behaviour. As academic workloads increase, many students find it difficult to set aside time for physical activity. However, it may be especially important to stay active during stressful times since physical activity can help to improve mental alertness, reduce stress and improve quality of sleep (Sharma, Madaan & Petty, 2006).


Read More

Comment augmenter son nombre de pas quotidien – Défi National Podomètre 2017

Image may contain: sky, outdoor and nature

Today’s post comes from Janie. You can learn more about her at the end of this post!

 Vous avez décidé de participer au Défi National Podomètre? Félicitations! Il s’agit d’un pas de plus vers l’adoption et le maintien d’un mode de vie actif. Il faut être prêt à y mettre l’effort, mais sachez que des petits gestes peuvent faire toute la différence.

La Société Américaine du cœur recommande de faire au moins 10 000 pas par jour dans le but de prévenir le développement des maladies cardiovasculaires. Si cela vous semble peu, c’est un nombre assez difficile à atteindre dans le contexte où la majorité de la population effectue un travail en position assise. Voici quelques trucs simples pour vous permettre d’atteindre 10 000 pas quotidiennement:


Read More

2017 CON-SNP National Pedometer Challenge

Image may contain: sky, outdoor and nature

Today’s post comes from Sukhleen Deol. Sukhleen is a second year Master’s Student at York University in Kinesiology and Health Science.

Public health guidelines recommend that adults take at least 10 000 steps per day1 to get the biggest bang for the physical activity buck. But how many people actually meet this guideline? Recent data from the Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS) showed that only about a third of adults are meeting this target. Men are doing slightly better and take an average of 9 500 steps per day. Women take an average of 8 400 steps per day.1 Take home message – to prevent chronic disease, Canadians should participate in higher amounts of physical activity.

Not sure if you’re meeting the guidelines? The National Pedometer Challenge, hosted by CON-SNP is a great way to check yo’self and see if you are meeting the current guidelines of at least 10 000 steps per day. This annual event requires participants to track their steps for 7 days. Last year, I participated and was surprised to find that I was not meeting the guidelines! (more…)

Read More

How to use people-first language


Today’s post comes from Amanda Raffoul. Amanda is a PhD Student in the School of Public Health and Health Systems, University of Waterloo and the Chapter Representative for the CON SNP Executive. You can find out more about her here

Our words and their meanings matter – although most of us recognize “bad words” in the English language (I’ll give you a hint, many of them are four-letters long), we’re not always so great at knowing when our language is stigmatizing or mis-labeling a group of people. Usually we don’t mean to be hurtful, it’s just sometimes the language has become so common that we’ve never stopped to think what it actually means. (more…)

Read More

Why self-efficacy is important for behavior change


Today’s post comes from Corrie Vincent. Corrie is the Co-Chair of the CON SNP Executive, you can find out more about her here

Maybe Henry Ford said it best: “Whether you think you can or think you can’t – you’re right.”  In other words, what we think about our ability to accomplish our goals has a major impact on our ability to achieve those goals. So whether you’re trying to eat healthier, exercise more, quit smoking or watch less Netflix one of the key predictors to your success is whether or not you THINK you can. Or maybe you’re more familiar with Thomas the Tank Engine’s mantra “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can”.

Self-efficacy is a term used to describe your sense of control over your environment and behaviours, and this concept is a key component of most health behavior theories. The interesting thing about self-efficacy is that it is the perception of ability rather than true ability that matters. (more…)

Read More

The benefit of buying “healthy gifts” (i.e, no electronics or chocolate here)


Today’s post comes from Jennifer McConnell-Nzunga. Jennifer is the Special Events Coordinator with the CON SNP National Executive and a PhD Candidate at the University of Victoria. You can find out more about her here

Earlier we talked about data ideas that wouldn’t leave you feeling deflated. Today, we’re talking about gift giving. Giving a gift can  make you happier, help you live longer, lower your blood pressure, and the closer the relationship is between you and the recipient the more you benefit (double bonus)! Heck, you even benefit psychologically if you give blood, or a kidney!… but that might be a little extreme.

With Valentine’s Day on the horizon I think we can make the case that gift-giving can be really good for you. Unfortunately, Valentine’s gifts tend to not be so good for the recipient. When we think Valentine’s Day we think chocolate, chocolate, roses, and more heart-shaped chocolate. But I think you should show the one that you love that you care about their health and well-being too! So here is a list of some healthy gift ideas: (more…)

Read More

10 Active Date Ideas


This post comes from Alex Cook. Alex is the Financial Director for the CON SNP Executive and a PhD Student in Experimental Medicine at McGill. You can find out more about Alex here

While the weather outside may be frightful, and a movie marathon so delightful… it doesn’t do much to get our heart rate going. We put together a list of active indoor and outdoor date ideas that will get those endorphins flowing, help to heat up our cold winter nights, and keep the love alive this Valentines!


Read More

Let’s keep the conversation going


This post comes from Aaryn Secker (MEd), the Outgoing Co-Chair of the CON SNP National Executive. Aaryn works in Community Education and Communications for the Canadian Mental Health Association, Kelowna. Her views and opinions are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of her employer. 

As many of you would have noticed, January 25th was Bell Let’s Talk Day, a nation-wide initiative to bring awareness to mental health issues and help to end the stigma commonly associated with mental illness. At the time of posting, this one-day campaign raised $6,585,250 for mental health in Canada.

As researchers and the general public are becoming increasingly aware, mental health and physical health are two sides to the same coin; our physical health has an impact on our mental health and vice versa. We are also aware that weight bias and stigma exist and would do well to understand that there can be a complex relationship between weight and mental health issues (including medications prescribed to treat mental illnesses). Despite amazing people and intentions, a common refrain in the field of mental health is that there are gaps in our treatment systems and people often fall through the cracks. I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that some of the same issues exist for treating physical health concerns. (more…)

Read More