With diabetes reaching epidemic scale, Diabetes Canada is advocating critical policy shifts it sees as essential to the health of Canadians. These include reducing the risks from sugar-sweetened beverages, implementing coherent policies for youth with type 1 diabetes in schools, ending marketing of food and drinks to kids, and more.
A manufacturer’s levy on sugar-sweetened beverages is a priority for Diabetes Canada, in part because both the risks of consumption and the benefits of a tax or levy have been proven through extensive research.
“We’ve known for some time that sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) are a potent source of calories that contribute to obesity, which in turn contributes to type 2 diabetes,” says Dr. Jan Hux, chief science officer at Diabetes Canada.
She explains that these drinks don’t contribute to a feeling of fullness. “You will eat the same amount of food at a meal whether you eat it with a 300-calorie beverage or water.
“But more recent research has shown a direct link as well: just one or two servings of [SSBs] per day increases [the] risk of type 2 diabetes by 25 per cent, even in people of healthy body weight.”
“We want to see the environment change so that the healthy choice becomes the easy choice,” says epidemiologist Seema Nagpal, Diabetes Canada’s public policy senior leader.
One study evaluating the implementation of an SSB tax in Mexico found that consumption decreased overall, and even more among people of lower socioeconomic status, benefiting those most affected by diabetes, obesity and other chronic diseases. Several other countries have now implemented this approach. “It sends the message that these products are unhealthy and should not be consumed on a regular basis. In addition, the funds generated can be used to support other health promotion and education initiatives,” adds Dr. Nagpal.
Diabetes Canada is also part of the Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition. “Children don't have the mature judgment to be able to distinguish between facts, entertainment and marketing until their mid to late teens,” says Dr. Hux. “In a society where we want to care for our children, we shouldn’t allow the marketing of unhealthy foods to influence their choices and preferences.”
A recent review showed that 90 per cent of foods marketed to children in Canada are unhealthy. “Parents need to say no, but we need to give them a level playing field,” she says. “They shouldn’t have to compete with the multi-million-dollar advertising industry.”
WHAT’S YOUR RISK?
- Do you have high blood pressure?
- Does anyone in your family have diabetes?
- Are you of Indigenous, Asian, Hispanic or African descent?
In Quebec, marketing to children has been illegal since 1980, and children there consume more fruits and vegetables and less junk food than anywhere else in Canada. As a result, they are less likely to be overweight or obese, she points out.
“Education, awareness and package labeling are all important. But given the trends in overweight, obesity and type 2 diabetes, it’s clear that it’s not enough. It’s not working,” stresses Dr. Hux.
“Individuals make choices in the context of the reality of their lives,” says Dr. Nagpal. “We are bombarded with ads to consume unhealthy products; at meetings, sports games, community centres – everywhere we go there is unhealthy food.
“Sixty per cent of Canadian adults and a third of our children are now overweight or obese, and it’s not simply about choice. It is a product of the environment in which we live. For our children, ourselves and our friends, we need to create an environment that consistently promotes and supports health, not disease.”
She stresses that there is no magic, single solution. “We are in this mess for many reasons, and it’s through these multiple interventions that we'll start to see change.”
To get involved, visit diabetes.ca – click on “How you can help” and “Advocate.”