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WHO proposes taxing sugary drinks to reduce obesity, diabetes and tooth decay

Thursday, October 13th 2016 - 10:19 UTC
Full article 8 comments
 “If governments tax products like sugary drinks, they can cut healthcare costs and increase revenues to invest in health services”, said Dr, Douglas Bettcher “If governments tax products like sugary drinks, they can cut healthcare costs and increase revenues to invest in health services”, said Dr, Douglas Bettcher

Taxing sugary drinks can lower consumption and reduce obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay, says a new WHO report. Fiscal policies that lead to at least a 20% increase in the retail price of sugary drinks would result in proportional reductions in consumption of such products, according to the report titled “Fiscal policies for Diet and Prevention of No communicable Diseases (NCDs)”.

 Reduced consumption of sugary drinks means lower intake of “free sugars” and calories overall, improved nutrition and fewer people suffering from overweight, obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.

Free sugars refer to monosaccharides (such as glucose or fructose) and disaccharides (such as sucrose or table sugar) added to foods and drinks by the manufacturer, cook, or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices, and fruit juice concentrates.

“Consumption of free sugars, including products like sugary drinks, is a major factor in the global increase of people suffering from obesity and diabetes,” says Dr Douglas Bettcher, Director of WHO’s Department for the Prevention of NCDs. “If governments tax products like sugary drinks, they can reduce suffering and save lives. They can also cut healthcare costs and increase revenues to invest in health services.”

In 2014, more than 1 in 3 (39%) adults worldwide aged 18 years and older were overweight. Worldwide prevalence of obesity more than doubled between 1980 and 2014, with 11% of men and 15% of women (more than half a billion adults) being classified as obese.

In addition, an estimated 42 million children aged under 5 years were overweight or obese in 2015, an increase of about 11 million during the past 15 years. Almost half (48%) of these children lived in Asia and 25% in Africa.

The number of people living with diabetes has also been rising, from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014. The disease was directly responsible for 1.5 million deaths in 2012 alone.

“Nutritionally, people don’t need any sugar in their diet. WHO recommends that if people do consume free sugars, they keep their intake below 10% of their total energy needs, and reduce it to less than 5% for additional health benefits. This is equivalent to less than a single serving (at least 250 ml) of commonly consumed sugary drinks per day,” says Dr Francesco Branca, Director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition for Health and Development.

Fiscal policies should target foods and beverages for which healthier alternatives are available, the report adds. The outcomes of a mid-2015 meeting of global experts convened by WHO and an investigation of 11 recent systematic reviews of the effectiveness of fiscal policy interventions for improving diets and preventing NCDs and a technical meeting of global experts.

Other findings include: Subsidies for fresh fruits and vegetables that reduce prices by 10–30% can increase fruit and vegetable consumption; Taxation of certain foods and drinks, particularly those high in saturated fats, trans fat, free sugars and/or salt appears promising, with existing evidence clearly showing that increases in the prices of such products reduces their consumption; Excise taxes, such as those used on tobacco products, that apply a set (specific) amount of tax on a given quantity or volume of the product, or particular ingredient, are likely to be more effective than sales or other taxes based on a percentage of the retail price, and Public support for such tax increases could be increased if the revenue they generate is earmarked for efforts to improve health systems, encourage healthier diets and increase physical activity.

Top Comments

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  • Idlehands

    So fat people wobbling their way to the shops too often are forcing the rest of us to pay more for sugar. As sugar is probably an inelastic good I doubt it will reduce consumption. It's just more cash in the coffers.

    Oct 13th, 2016 - 11:55 am +2
  • ElaineB

    @ Idlehands

    To an extent you are right. This has become an acceptable way to tax just as petrol was (for the environment), tobacco (for health), cars with bigger engines etc. There has been a prolonged campaign to make a sugar tax acceptable. However, how effective it will be in reducing obesity is highly debatable. Real change comes from society deeming something unacceptable like driving without seat belts or drinking and driving. (Imagine that these were once considered acceptable).

    Real change will come from education, pressure in society and the health experts admitting they were entirely wrong in making fat content the dietary enemy rather than refined sugar. Most low fat processed food is awash with sugar. A limited amount fat content is far more healthy.

    Oct 13th, 2016 - 01:37 pm +2
  • Marti Llazo

    News item: WHO recommends heavy taxes on Fernet and yerba-mate consumption in Argentina in bid to reduce epidemic levels of madness.

    Oct 13th, 2016 - 05:11 pm +2
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