New Brunswickers want province to support healthy, active lifestyles: survey

New Brunswickers say they want to see changes by the provincial government that support a healthier and more active lifestyle in communities across the province, according to a new poll.

Results of a province-wide survey put forward by the New Brunswick Medical Society showed New Brunswickers want to see the provincial government improve education in schools relating to food choices and physical activity, by adding home economics to the curriculum.

Another suggestion put forward by New Brunswickers was the idea of a “soda tax,” which would see revenue from a tax on sugary drinks go towards helping low-income families be able to afford healthier food options.

New Brunswick Medical Society CEO Anthony Knight said people across the province are looking for opportunities to access better choices.  He said that’s what the tax could leverage by building a “set of resources for people to access the supports they need to be healthy.”

The report is part of the Medical Society’s “3 in 10” initiative – the goal of making New Brunswick one of the three healthiest provinces in the next 10 years.

Medical Society president Dr. Lynn Murphy-Kaulbeck said the report is a “guide to enacting smart, meaningful changes, that can help New Brunswickers lead healthier lives.”

Murphy-Kaulbeck said they received suggestions from almost 800 people in ridings across the province, with more than 1,500 suggestions brought forward.

“It’s not easy to be healthy.  If it were we wouldn’t have the health problems that we do in this province,” Murphy-Kaulbeck said.

She said there are “significant barriers” when it comes to making healthy choices.

“Just one can of pop per day puts you over the recommended intake for sugar, so I think in that way it’s fairly easy to justify that would be something that’s worth taxing,” Murphy-Kaulbeck said.

She said doing nothing could “cripple our system” when it comes to putting money into problems that already exist.

According to the province, 64 per cent of New Brunswickers over 18 years old are overweight or obese, when it comes to the body mass index (BMI), which is higher than the national average of 53.8 per cent. BMI, according to the Canadian Diabetes Association, is a “measure of body fat based on height and weight.”

Dr. Ben Hoyt said health promotion, disease prevention and healthier lifestyle choices are important to make a change to people’s health going forward.

“The longer we wait to address not just obesity, but healthy lifestyles in general, the longer we allow poor health to lead to chronic medical conditions, and the more we have to try those conditions the more costly it’s going to be,” Hoyt said.

Deputy premier and Families and Children Minister Stephen Horsman said he thinks it’s fantastic the Medical Society conducted the survey and brought forward the findings.

Horsman said the government will take the suggestions into consideration to see what they can do to help make New Brunswick one of the healthiest provinces in Canada.

“It took us a long time to get to where we are with the problem we have facing our health, so it’s going to take some time to get out of this and at some point maybe [a sugary-drink tax] will happen,” Horsman said.  “I can’t say for sure, but it’s something New Brunswickers are taking about and we are listening to New Brunswickers.”

New Brunswick Green Party leader David Coon said he hopes the government will implement the recommendations and build on them.  He said he would support the soda tax and said it would be easy to implement by increase the already-existent deposit on sugary beverages.

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