What do ice cream and investment fees have in common?



What do ice cream and investment fees have in common? Maybe more than you think. It turns out that regulators trying to protect us from too many fees or too much sugar face a stiff fight against those who profit from our indulgence.

Canadians are getting chubbier. During the recent World Obesity Week, we heard a lot about the state of our waistlines. According to Statistics Canada, based on our self-reported weights, 54 per cent of Canadian adults are overweight.

Our over-fatness increases health-care costs, reduces productivity and often negatively impacts our quality of life. To its credit, Health Canada has recently announced packaging changes to help Canadians make better food choices and, ideally, lose a few as a result.

Health Canada recommended a simple solution: warning symbols on the front of any package containing food high in sugar, salt or saturated fat.

Here’s a list of food industry responses to Health Canada’s proposal, compiled by Yoni Freedhoff, a doctor and obesity specialist blogging at WeightyMatters.ca:

— The Retail Council of Canada wanted Health Canada to implement instead an instruction for consumers to turn products around and study their nutrition facts tables.

— The Retail Council also worried (and I’m not making this up) that including Health Canada’s name on the warning symbols might be misinterpreted as a government endorsement which in turn would lead consumers to eat more of the products with the warning labels.

— The Food Processors of Canada called for more public education, not a front-of-package warning program.

— The Canadian Beverage Association was deeply concerned about the process, wanting industry participants to discuss and reach agreement on the new packaging program.

Most submissions were variations on a theme. Rather than simple and expedient packaging changes, industry lobbyists called for a level of nutritional literacy that, based on the current state of our waistlines, is clearly beyond many of us.

I was left with a strong sense that I had seen this reaction elsewhere. And I had. It was very similar to the response from the finance industry as investor advocates like CARP push for reforms to better protect investors from bad advice and excessive fees.

Health Canada’s consumer is the grocery shopper rather than the investor, but the positions taken by industry advocates are strikingly similar:

— No acknowledgment of the magnitude of the problem facing Canadians (too many pounds or excessive fees).

— Rejection of simple solutions (such as warning labels on food, or a ban on embedded fees) that have proven effective in other countries.

— Reliance instead on a relatively complex system of disclosure (back of package food labels, or fund facts and prospectuses).

— Insistence on education and consumer literacy as the solution to improving both our eating and investing habits.

Failure to stand up to lobbyists now adds costs down the road. Our governments can adopt common-sense regulations to drive prudent dining and investing behaviour, helping us remain healthy and financially self-reliant. Or they can continue to allow businesses to sell us high fat ice-cream and high-cost investments without intervening. If lobbyists win the day, we’ll be fatter and poorer, and we’ll pick up the tax bill for greater health-care costs and more Old Age Security payments down the road.

So far, Health Canada has stood firm against the food lobby. Perhaps they can inspire our finance ministers to stand up to investment industry lobbyists, too.


Want to find out if your investment fees cost too much? Use our T-Rex tool to help you visualize the importance of fees to your investment returns.


Click here to find out more about CARP’s call to government to put investors’ interests ahead of investors’ compensation.


Grey Matters is a weekly column by Wanda Morris, the VP of Advocacy for CARP, a 300,000 member national, non-partisan, non-profit organization that advocates for financial security, improved health-care for Canadians as we age. Missed a week? Past columns by Wanda and other key CARP contributors can be found at carp.ca/blogs.