Jamie Oliver is a chef and healthy food advocate.
Mr. Oliver here, with the honour of writing to you. I just want to have a chat about child health in Canada.
When I say child health, I'm specifically talking about obesity and diet-related illness. I know that doesn't necessarily bother everyone. In fact, it often winds people up.
If you think you don't care about good child health in Canada, then you probably should – because you're already paying for it.
The cost of obesity and diet-related disease is a true cost in tax to every Canadian – obesity costs Canada between $4.6-billion to $7.1-billion annually in health costs and lost productivity. And that's not good in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.
Many people feel obesity is about personal responsibility, and sorting yourself out. But that's not true.
To take personal responsibility you need two things: truth and choice. That means the right information to make informed decisions about what you eat – and the right access, to choose the good stuff when you want it.
Right now, no country has got this right. Kids are bombarded with junk-food messages, food labels are confusing, junk food is cheap and in many places healthier food is harder to find.
But it is a really exciting time for Canada. Your government is on the precipice of putting together a properly joined up, logical childhood-obesity strategy. One that touches all parts of the food environment – businesses, schools, the workplace, food companies and parents – asking everyone to do something to make a difference and break the cycle.
The strategy contains some great laws on marketing junk to kids, and introducing some of the clearest food labelling I've seen.
But I reckon there's a massive piece missing in your government's plan – a sugary drinks tax. France, Hungary, Mexico and Norway all have one. Ireland, South Africa, and Britain have all agreed to introduce one soon. So many cities across the United States (such as Berkeley, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Seattle) have all signed up, too. In all these places, it's working. It's the new norm.
Do taxes on sugary drinks make a difference to the number of calories in the mix? Yes. Do they make a difference to the number of people dying from diet-related disease? Yes. Are they enough on their own? No.
For starters, we need to pump money from taxes back into schools to inspire kids to feed themselves properly for the rest of their lives. The University of Waterloo says a Canadian sugary drinks tax would raise a massive $43.6-billion over 25 years. Imagine what a huge difference that could make for Canadian kids if spent well.
The conversation about protecting Canadian children isn't about taking the fun out of food, or stopping brands from doing business. It's simply about making sure everyone knows the truth and has a decent choice about what they eat.
So I need you – whoever you are, reading this – to lend your voice and your support, and push these policies over the line. I realize you're all busy people, and there's loads of scary stuff in the news. I know it's easy to tune-out the stats, but listen to this: Annually, up to 66,000 Canadian deaths are due to excess weight. That means up to seven people die, every hour, every single day, every single year.
If they drive home their brilliant plans to tackle child health, Prime Minister Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau could reset the balance for a whole generation and turbo-boost Canada's productivity.
Add a sugar tax to the mix and we're looking at one of the most comprehensive, world-leading obesity strategies ever launched. Let's give them the support they need to make the right decision.