OTTAWA (November 13, 2002) - The Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) urged the
Romanow Commission on the Future of Health Care to recommend reducing health care costs by helping
Canadians improve their diets and increase their levels of physical activity two steps recognized by the
World Health Organization to help reduce the prevalence of chronic diseases that currently burden the health
Together, poor diets and physical inactivity are estimated to be responsible for $5 billion to $10 billion
in health care costs and lost productivity due to premature death and disability, and prematurely claim well in
excess of 20,000 lives in Canada each year.
CSPIs recommendations on how to help improve diets and increase physical activity were endorsed
by 10 health and citizens groups, including the National Pensioners and Senior Citizens Federation, Canadian
Society for Exercise Physiology, Ontario Society of Nutrition Professionals in Public Health, Canadian
Womens Health Network, and Toronto Food Policy Council. Key proposals to the commission include:
- conducting an intensive, mass media campaign to promote nutrition and physical activity;
- prohibiting advertising junk food to children (a ban on all advertising to children has been in force in
Québec for two decades);
- requiring that chain restaurants disclose basic nutrition information, like calories, on menus and menu
- improving food labelling by requiring nutrition information on fresh meat, poultry and seafood
(exempted from recently proposed mandatory nutrition labelling rules), and requiring that processed
foods containing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, or added sugars show the percentage, by weight, of
those ingredients in ingredient lists;
- requiring medium and large workplaces to ensure that cafeterias offer healthy menu items, and to
enable workers in sedentary desk jobs to get more physical activity;
- requiring weight loss and fitness programs and products to disclose reliable evidence of their long-term
effectiveness and safety;
- including preventative nutrition counselling services under provincial medicare programs; and
- requiring provincial governments to ensure students receive bi-weekly nutrition and food preparation
classes for at least two years, and daily physical education classes every year.
The World Health Organizations recent annual World Health Report estimated that in countries like
Canada publicly-funded health education campaigns combined with legislative controls on the nutrient content
and labelling of processed foods could improve health at a small fraction of the cost per life saved compared
to traditional medical screening and drug treatment for high cholesterol and blood pressure. The Auditor
General of Canada and many research scientists and economists agree that disease prevention efforts can be
as much as seven times more cost-effective than treating illness after it has occurred.
Reports released recently by the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology and
several provincial governments have stressed the importance of disease prevention through improvements in
diet and increases in physical activity, but offered little clear direction on how to effectively tackle the job of
helping Canadians take appropriate steps to improve their health by these means, said Bill Jeffery, L.LB.,
national coordinator of CSPI. The measures we advocate provide clear direction to governments and the
public health community on how to help Canadians reduce their risk of disease.
CSPI also advised the Commission to urge the federal government to refine existing tax polices
concerning sales tax on foods, and the deductibility of food advertising expenses from taxable corporate
income to make those rules more conducive to health promotion. For example, exempting healthy
restaurant foods (such as low fat milk, fruit juice, most salads, and vegetable-based dishes) from GST and
applying GST to certain foods sold in grocery stores such as meat that is high in saturated fat (like fresh
regular ground beef) or high in added sugars (such as soft drinks) would help promote healthier diets.
Minister McLellans recent announcement that the Canadian Institutes of Health Research will spend
$3 million per year for the next five years on obesity-related research is laudable, said Jeffery. However,
research is not enough. Unless governments act now to help consumers improve their diets and increase their
levels of physical activity, the Canadian economy will lose as much as $25 billion to $50 billion in health care
costs and lost productivity during the five-year research period.