Centre for Science in the Public Interest

For the Record

For Immediate Release:
November 28, 2002

For more information:
Bill Jeffery,
CSPI’s National Coordinator,

Related Links:
View Romanow Commission Report

   Group Praises Romanow’s Emphasis on Tapping Diet, Physical Activity to Save $Billions in Health Care Costs

OTTAWA (November 28, 2002) - The Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) applauds the Romanow Commission on the Future of Health Care for stressing the importance of healthy diet and physical activity for improving the health of Canadians and reducing the burden of chronic diseases on the health care system and the economy as a whole.

Experts estimate that together poor diets and physical inactivity are responsible for $5 billion to $10 billion in health care costs and lost productivity due to premature death and disability annually. They also prematurelyclaim 20,000 to 45,000 lives in Canada each year.

CSPI recommends a comprehensive eight-point program for tackling disease caused by poor diet and inactivity. This program is endorsed by ten 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 Women’s Health Network, and Toronto Food Policy Council. The groups’ recommendations urge governments to:

  • conduct an intensive, mass media campaign to promote nutrition and physical activity;
  • prohibit advertising junk food to children (a ban on all advertising to children has been in force in Québec for two decades);
  • require that chain restaurants disclose basic nutrition information, like calories, on menus and menu boards;
  • improve labelling of packaged foods by requiring nutrition information on fresh meat, poultry and seafood (expected to be exempted from new 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;
  • require 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;
  • require weight loss and fitness programs and products to disclose reliable evidence of their long-term effectiveness and safety;
  • include preventative nutrition counselling services under provincial medicare programs; and
  • 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 Organization’s recentannual “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 healthat a small fraction of the cost-per-life saved compared totraditional health promotion programs such as diagnostic screening with drug treatment for high cholesterol and blood pressure.

Commissioner Romanow lays the foundation for these types of reforms by recommending that the federal government “kick-start” primary health care reform with an infusion of $2.5 billion for primary health care reform through fiscal years 2003-05. These funds are to be used partly for “making Canada a world leader in reducing tobacco use and obesity.” Mr. Romanow also urges measures to increase physical activity in schools, support healthier workplaces, and systematically educate Canadians about the value of physical activity. His report advocates a “major emphasis” on national, regional and local prevention initiatives in place of the “fragmented and piecemeal” programs now operating. The Commission also recommends that the proposed “Health Council of Canada” assist in the development of health promotion and prevention initiatives “to ensure that information is shared with the general public through a variety of media.”

“If federal and provincial governments fulfill these recommendations by implementing bold measures to improve diet and increase physical activity, funds saved will ensure our prized public health care is more financially sustainable in the long run,” said Bill Jeffery, national coordinator of CSPI.

CSPI also urges government to refine sales-tax exemptions for foods, and to reduce the deductibility of advertising expenses for high calorie, nutrient-poor foods (junk foods) from taxable corporate income. “For instance, exempting healthy restaurant foods (such as low fat milk, fruit juice, most salads and vegetable-based dishes) from GST, and applying GST to high saturated-fat regular ground beef and sugary cereals sold in retail stores would help promote healthier diets,” Jeffery said.

“Minister McLellan’s recent commitment to spend $3 million per year for the next five years on obesity-related research is commendable,” 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.

The Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is an independent consumer health advocacy organization with offices in Ottawa and Washington, D.C. CSPI’s Canadian advocacy efforts are supported by over 100,000 subscribers to the Canadian edition of its Nutrition Action Healthletter. CSPI does not accept industry or government funding.

CSPI Canada