During its pre-budget consultation to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, Weight Watchers Canada Ltd. submitted a proposal document titled: "A Proposal to Combat Obesity Through Education, Fitness and Support". The Weight Watchers Canada proposal petitioned the Government to accelerate their proposed Adult Fitness Tax Credit so that it begins next year instead of waiting until 2014/15 when the budget is expected to be balanced.
In this proposal, Weight Watchers Canada stressed the magnitude of the obesity crisis in Canada today by calling it an epidemic. They went on to predict that at the current rate of increase, obesity will become a very real threat to our health care system.
The statistics in the report are chilling. According to the Weight Watchers numbers, over 58% or 20 million Canadians are overweight. Over 23% are considered to be obese. Broken down by province, the Atlantic Provinces fared worst with Newfoundland leading the way with over 70% of adults over the age of 18 tipping the scales at an unhealthy weight. The numbers in the proposal got even worse. They went on to report that one in ten premature adult deaths in Canada can be directly linked to excess weight issues.
The purpose behind this grim news is perfectly clear. Weight Watchers wants to get their message across to Parliament: Canadians need to change their attitudes towards food, lose weight and get more active. If nothing is done, it is going to cost the government much more in healthcare dollars.
The report took a brief jab at the Conservative government by raising the idea of a "junk food tax", a sin tax that would have inflated the prices on certain foods known to promote weight gain. The Harper government has made it clear that they would never propose this type of tax.
The Weight Watchers Canada proposal identified three ways that the federal government could tackle the problem of obesity in Canada;1) Tax policy or subsidy to motivate behavior 2) Regulatory oversight to govern the ingredients of our food 3) Public education and public awareness programs to change attitudes and behaviours over time
Not surprisingly, the Weight Watchers proposal to parliament favoured a combination all of the above. The proposal went on to suggest the missing element to the strategy is with respect to education around healthy eating and eating behavior modification and support programs to help Canadians who are overweight to make better food choices and maintain their weight loss.
The Weight Watchers Canada proposal suggested that the Government not only move-up their proposed Adult Fitness Tax Credit to next year but also include "eating education and behavior modification" within the program. They suggest calling it the "Healthy Eating and Fitness Tax Credit".
Weight Watchers estimates that the $500 per person tax credit would cost tax payers roughly 40 million dollars per year. They also recommend guidelines for how to apply the tax credit. These recommendations include a short list of programs and participation that are remarkably similar to the core Weight Watchers program. The list also includes several stipulations that would all but exclude their top competitors for being eligible for the tax credit.
Although this submission to the Canadian Parliament may appear to be a thinly-veiled and self-serving attempt to expand their corporate footprint in Canada, the kind of lobbying that Weight Watchers Canada is not all bad. Companies approach the government with proposals like this all time but not many have the potential for positive social outcomes that this one has. The research that Weight Watchers Canada did in preparation for this proposal may just convince the Conservatives to put the nation's physical health ahead of its financial health.
Read the full Weight Watchers Canada proposal here: Weight Watchers Proposal