In a new report on rising childhood obesity, the World Health Organization (WHO) has backed the British campaign for a “sugar tax” on sweet drinks. There is “strong evidence” that a sugar tax will work alongside two other measures to tackle childhood obesity: a ban on the sale of unhealthy food by schools, and a crackdown on the marketing of junk food to children, the report states.
The numbers of obese or overweight children worldwide has risen by 10 million since 1990, prompting WHO to call for tight regulations. The international health body stated that at least 41 million children under the age of five are now obese or overweight across the globe.
WHO’s Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity said: “The Commission believes there is sufficient rationale to warrant the introduction of an effective tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.
“It is well established that the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with an increased risk of obesity.”
In the report, it stated: “Processed, energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods and sugar-sweetened beverages, in increasing portion size, at affordable prices have replaced minimally-processed fresh foods and water in many settings at school and family meals.
“The easy access to energy-dense foods and sugar-sweetened beverages and the tacit encouragement to ‘size-up’ through commercial promotions have contributed to the rising caloric intake in many populations.”
Commission members also called for tighter regulations around the advertising of food and drinks to children.
“Despite the increasing number of voluntary efforts by industry, exposure to the marketing of unhealthy foods remains a major issue demanding change that will protect all children equally,” the report stated.
“Any attempt to tackle childhood obesity should, therefore, include a reduction in exposure of children to, and the power of, marketing.”
The role of schools was also addressed, with the report urging a ban on the “provision or sale of unhealthy foods, such as sugar-sweetened beverages and energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods, in the school environment.”
The WHO report warned that childhood obesity is reaching “alarming proportions” in many countries and poses an urgent and serious challenge.
“Children with obesity are very likely to remain obese as adults and are at risk of chronic illness,” it stressed.