World Health Organisation urges all countries to tax sugary drinks to reduce obesity rate

All countries are being urged to consider introducing a sugary drinks tax by the World Health Organisation as an effective way of curbing the soaring obesity rate, especially in children, reports The Guardian.

The WHO’s advice comes as more and more countries are considering using fiscal measures to dissuade people from buying the large quantities of colas, lemonades and other sugary soft drinks that have been identified as a major cause of the global overweight and obesity crisis.

It will strengthen the hand of campaigners in countries such as Colombia, where the drinks industry has succeeded in having an anti-sugar broadcast banned.

A new report from the WHO says that a tax of 20% or more results in a drop in sales and consumption of sugary drinks. People consume fewer “free sugars” such as fructose and glucose, take in fewer calories and reduce their risk of tooth decay.

“Consumption of free sugars, including products like sugary drinks, is a major factor in the global increase of people suffering from obesity and diabetes,” said Dr Douglas Bettcher, director of the WHO’s department for the prevention of non-communicable diseases. “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.”

The WHO has already published nutritional advice saying nobody actually needs sugar in their diet. Its guidance says we should restrict our intake of free sugars to a maximum of 10% of our energy needs, preferably 5%. 

The WHO says a tax has most impact on the young, those on low incomes and others who consume a lot of sugary drinks and will have the greatest positive effect on the health of those groups.

Other fiscal measures that work include subsidising fresh fruit and vegetable prices by 10-30%, it says. Taxing food and other drinks that are high in saturated fats, trans fats, free sugars and salt “appears promising”, it goes on, because there is evidence that higher prices reduce consumption.

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