The Canadian Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology has issued a “groundbreaking” report on obesity that calls for a tax on sugar- and artificially-sweetened beverages as well as a ban on advertising food and drink to children. Titled Obesity in Canada: A Whole-of-Society Approach for a Healthier Canada, the March 2016 report also recommends, among other things, (i) “a National Campaign to Combat Obesity,” (ii) “a complete revision of Canada’s food guide to better reflect scientific evidence,” (iii) “a review of nutrition food labelling to make it easier to understand,” and (iv) “a plan for making healthy food more affordable.”

“Canada’s dated food guide is no longer effective in providing nutritional guidance to Canadians. Fruit juice, for instance, is presented as a healthy item when it is little more than a soft drink without the bubbles,” notes the report, which summarizes expert testimony given before the committee between October 2014 and June 2015. “From policy makers to parents, industry insiders to family doctors, all Canadians have a role to play to beat back this crisis.”

In particular, the senate committee urges further study of Quebec’s existing restrictions on food and beverage marketing to children younger than age 13. Although it highlights voluntary measures such as the Canadian Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CAI), the report nevertheless cites testimony describing the CAI as allegedly ineffective. “With the exception of the food industry, witnesses unanimously supported strict controls on the advertising of unhealthy food and beverages to children, although the specifics of such an approach varied to some degree,” states the committee’s summary.

In addition to examining soda taxation measures that target all carbonated beverages as opposed to just sugary ones, the report singles out the overhauled Brazilian dietary guidelines, “which no longer focus on food groups and nutrients but rather on whole foods, meal preparation and avoidance of ultra-processed items.” To this end, the senate committee backs the formulation of an evidence- and meal-based nutritional guide by an advisory body that does not include food, beverage or agricultural industry representatives. It also asks the Minister of Health to consider labeling changes designed to address serving size and “require that the daily intake value for protein be included in the Nutrition Facts table.”

Meanwhile, the Office of the Prime Minister has already issued mandate letters directing the Minister of Health “to restrict the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children, to regulate trans fat and salt in processed foods and improve food labelling with respect to added sugars.” According to a concurrent press release, “An increase in consumption of prepackaged, highly processed foods, like instant noodles, prepackaged pizzas, candy, soft drinks, and salty snacks, the increase in use of personal computers, and lack of sufficient physical activity are listed as some of the key contributors to Canada’s ‘obesogenic culture’ – one that promotes poor eating and low levels of activity.”