Albertans, like most Canadians, keep getting fatter. So in an attempt to reverse rising obesity rates and encourage active lifestyles, the province’s Progressive Conservative government is considering a fitness tax reward.
The incentive is a tax break of up to $500 on fees for things like gym memberships, ski passes and hockey registration. “We saw it pretty clearly with the tax break on home renovations—people jump on the bandwagon,” says Colleen Parsons, director of health and fitness programs at the University of Calgary. “It’s an excellent opportunity for people to engage.” The bill, which was passed in the legislature but hasn’t yet been made into law, comes on the heels of a similar incentive implemented in Nova Scotia in 2009, and is meant to complement the federal government’s children’s fitness tax credit. It’s also supposed to update the province’s 12-year-old active-living policy, which the government and provincial sports organizations say needs retooling.
Today, one-third of adult Albertans are overweight and about 20 per cent are obese. Parsons says one of the main reasons Albertans avoid the gym and activities like skiing is the cost. The incentive has been endorsed by the Fitness Industry Council of Canada, which conducted a study that found the feds could save $2.5 billion in health care costs over 25 years and get up to one million more Canadians physically active with tax breaks. But, says Parsons, the idea is not a panacea for better health. “Will it change the health of Albertans? No. That’s a much larger problem.”
Cindy Ady, Alberta’s minister for tourism, parks and recreation, agrees. She says the tax incentive needs to be part of a larger program aimed at changing the minds of Albertans, and that the government still needs to go through consultations to figure out what works best. “I don’t want little quick fixes,” says Ady. “The tax credit piece is just one component.”