Canada should say ‘no’ to junk food, but not before making healthy alternatives accessible

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It’s no secret junk food is killing us. Some countries, like Mexico, have introduced a sugar tax. But a simple tax doesn’t address the root of the problem: large corporations producing unhealthy foods in the first place.

In 2014, Mexico adopted a sugar tax for drinks to combat obesity. Implementing a tax in this way shows that a government is serious about cracking down on junk foods, but that doesn’t mean Canada should follow with identical measures.

A tax might discourage some people from buying sugary drinks and foods, but it ignores systemic reasons for purchasing junk food: they can’t necessarily afford healthier alternatives. This tax might work in the long run, but it’ll harm low-income families already struggling with food security.

Instead of making junk food more expensive, we need to focus on making healthy food affordable. Or, better yet, making our food healthier across the board.

Big corporations producing junk food choose to load it with salt and sugar—not because they have to, but because they know these addictive ingredients will draw customers back time and time again. Instead of taxing consumers for these products like Mexico, Canada should tax the corporations and pressure them into producing healthier food.

Doing something as simple as reducing salt and sugar content would make a difference. But junk food corporations won’t do this themselves—they need a push from the government. Taxing these companies or banning certain ingredients could help.

Big corporations are driven by profit. If producing healthy foods suddenly becomes more profitable than producing junk foods, they’ll inevitably jump onboard.

Education is also important. A sugar tax might drive people away from unhealthy foods, but it won’t change our country’s overall attitude toward junk foods.

If we approach junk food in our classrooms like the health crisis it is and give people the tools to differentiate healthy ingredients from unhealthy ones, we can hopefully shift society to a healthier mindset.

Underlying conditions—especially ones like obesity and diabetes—are putting people at a greater risk for COVID-19, increasing the importance of a healthy diet. Yet healthy foods aren’t always accessible, and it’s important we acknowledge that and avoid placing blame on the consumer.

Now is the time for Canada to get serious about promoting healthy eating, and that starts by standing up to the big corporations who introduced junk foods in the first place.

—Journal Editorial Board

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