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Obesity is rising while sugar consumption is falling

Montreal, November 27, 2018 – Sugar is not the cause of the obesity “epidemic” in Quebec or elsewhere, and raising taxes on sugary drinks, as certain groups regularly call for, is doomed to failure, shows a publication launched today by the MEI.

“Quebec and the rest of Canada, as well as the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, among others, have all seen an increase in obesity and diabetes in recent years. And yet, sugar consumption is down. ‘Taxing sugar’ may be a catchy slogan, but it’s a simplistic solution to a complex problem,” explains Mathieu Bédard, Economist at the MEI and author of the publication.

Quebecers and other Canadians are consuming fewer and fewer sugary drinks, and those they do consume contain less and less sugar. The consumption of sugar in general has also fallen over the past ten years, after having risen almost constantly since the early 1990s. Despite this, the obesity rate continues to increase, today affecting nearly a third of the country’s population.

“Numerous clinical studies have demonstrated that there is nothing special about sugar in itself that would slow down or cancel out weight loss while dieting. It is the overconsumption of calories, whatever their origin, that leads to weight gain,” points out Mathieu Bédard.

The problem with taxing food that is too sweet, too salty, or too fatty is the same as for all taxation. When you tax a product, behaviours change, and people substitute their consumption of one good for that of another. There’s no guarantee, however, that the product that replaces it will be better for one’s health than the targeted product.

“If, despite the tax, people continue to consume too many calories, this public policy will have no effect. It will nonetheless have increased the prices of products, which is particularly pernicious for the less well-off. And if the total consumption of sugar is relatively or completely unaffected, it’s even worse, since such a policy can then not even claim to improve public health,” points out Mathieu Bédard.

This is why adequate education about good nutrition and the promotion of more physical activity are more appropriate solutions for fighting obesity than taxing sugar. Fortunately, this view seems to be shared by the new Minister of Education, who recently said in an interview that she preferred to encourage the young to be physically active than to tax junk food.

The Viewpoint entitled “Taxing Sugar Will Not Halt the Rise in Obesity” was prepared by Mathieu Bédard, Economist at the MEI. This publication is available on our website.

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The MEI is an independent public policy think tank. Through its publications and media appearances, the MEI stimulates debate on public policies in Quebec and across Canada by proposing reforms based on market principles and entrepreneurship.


Interview requests: Pascale Déry, Vice President, Communications and Development, MEI. Tel.: 514-273-0969 ext. 2233 / Cell: 514-502-6757 / E-mail: pdery@iedm.org

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