Can Tax Breaks Help Prevent Childhood Obesity? Canada Thinks So...


Canadian citizens can take deductions on their taxes while deducting inches off their children’s waistlines. A lesser known facet of Canadian tax law (a subject on which we are all experts, right?) is the Children’s Fitness Tax Credit (CFTC)—a 2006 rule that allows parents, legal guardians and domestic partners to take a tax deduction for the cost of fitness programs. The idea is a pretty simple one: by offering parents money to encourage them to keep their kids active, the country will see fewer health problems and health care costs down the road.

What is the annual value of a healthy child? Priceless of course, but when it comes down to brass tacks (or should we say “brass tax”), Canada recently updated their tax code to put the value at $1,000 per child (it was previously set at $500). Frances Wooley, associate dean and professor of economics at Carleton University, offered insightful commentary recently in The Globe and Mail on the true value of this tax break.

The Children's Fitness Tax Credit, for example, doesn't make a material difference to the typical family's financial situation. But it validates people's sense of identity; that makes them feel recognized for who they are. The story here is not the affordability of children. It's about people feeling that they are valued and supported as parents – and about earning their votes."

According to Wooley, it is not the money but instead the intrinsic value of the federal government proclaiming that it directly supports each individual child getting the right amount of exercise. That is definitely worth something.

The Children’s Fitness Tax Credit is not without its critics. Soon after its inception, pundits were quick to point out problems such as possible gender bias to recipients, no dietary considerations (obviously one of the main causes of obesity),; and no tax credit available to households at or below the poverty line. A four-year federal review of the CFTC under the care of Canadian Auditor General, Michael Ferguson, recently brought national attention to that last point according to Laura Payton of CBC News:

Ferguson also concluded that the children's fitness tax credit was analyzed, with an expert panel pointing to a possible problem with that credit's implementation: not all parents could pay fitness membership fees, programs or camps in order to get the credit when they filed their taxes months later."

So, the CFTC may not be a perfect solution, but that does not mean that they are not worth enacting. It won’t be one magical policy, program or idea that does it. To nurse our nation back to health, we need all of the help we can get.  

Image via Flickr


Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson

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