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N.L. doctors want tax on sugar-sweetened beverages

Store clerk Lisa Furlong fills the cooler with cans of soft drinks at Clara’s Mini Mart on the corner of Mundy Pond Road and Blackmarsh Road on Tuesday afternoon.
Store clerk Lisa Furlong fills the cooler with cans of soft drinks at Clara’s Mini Mart on the corner of Mundy Pond Road and Blackmarsh Road on Tuesday afternoon.

Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association (NLMA) representatives presented a resolution to the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) general council last week in Quebec City on taxing sugar-sweetened beverages.

The resolution — that the Canadian Medical Association call on the federal government to implement a federal excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages and artificially sweetened drinks sold in Canada to subsidize healthier food options — was passed.

NLMA president Dr. Lynn Dwyer proposed the motion.

“It’s the free sugars that concern us,” said Dwyer. “These free sugars are added by the manufacturers as sweeteners or preservatives.”

Free sugars can be found in drinks such as soda, fruit juices, yogurt drinks and energy drinks.

The NLMA decided a tax on these sugary drinks would have the most impact if it were applied to the manufacturer at the point of production, instead of being applied to the consumer at the cash register.

“As a family physician, I see the effects of unhealthy diets in my practice on a daily basis,” said Dwyer. “We’re hoping to prevent diseases like diabetes or heart disease, before they happen, rather than treating them.”

Dwyer told The Telegram that when natural sugars are consumed, in fruit or vegetables, for example, it takes the body longer to metabolize those sugars, leaving people feeling full.

The free sugars in sugary drinks are metabolized quickly, leaving people feeling hungry much sooner.

In 2014, Statistics Canada reported that Newfoundland and Labrador had the highest prevalence of obesity of any Canadian province, at about 30 per cent, compared to the national average of about 20 per cent.

“We’re hopeful that an excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages might make consumers consider healthier choices in their lives,” said Dwyer. “Instead of their diet having a negative impact on their overall health, it will have a positive one.”

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