World Health Organization Supports Taxes On Sugar Drinks To Curb Obesity

Image courtesy of J-J-W

Berkeley, CA, is currently the only major U.S. city charging a tax on sugary drinks. The Philadelphia tax is coming soon — if it survives a beverage industry legal challenge. In spite of the slow adoption of, and opposition to, these so-called “soda taxes,” the World Health Organization is recommending that more places could fight obesity and other ailments by making sugary drinks more expensive.

The WHO’s suggestion came as part of a 36-page report — Fiscal Policies for Diet and Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases — released in conjunction with World Obesity Day.

According to the report [PDF], which is based on data collected during a meeting of global experts on fiscal policies in May 2015, if retail prices of sugar-sweetened drinks increased 20% there would be a proportional drop in consumption.

The WHO cites evidence that found increased taxes on the drinks “reduced caloric intake and contributed to improving nutrition and reducing overweight, obesity, and noncommunicable diseases.”

“Consumption of free sugars, including products like sugary drinks, is a major factor in the global increase of people suffering from obesity and diabetes,” Dr. Douglas Bettcher, who heads WHO’s department for preventing noncommunicable diseases, tells the Associated Press. “If governments tax products like sugary drinks, they can reduce suffering and save lives.”

The report notes that specific excise taxes — like those used for tobacco products — as opposed to sales or other taxes will likely be the most effective.

“This is because they reduce incentives to switch down to cheaper options, in that they increase the price of all products affected by the tax in the same way,” the report states.

According to the WHO, the taxes would also be a way for governments around the world to bring in needed funds that could be used to pay for health services.

Of course, the organization points out that taxing the drinks is just one way that countries can reduce the consumption of sugar.

In another suggestion, the report found evidence that providing subsidies for fresh fruits and vegetables that reduce prices by 10% to 30% are also effective in improving consumer health.

“Greater effects on the net energy intake and weight may be accomplished by combining subsidies on fruit and vegetables and taxation of target foods,” the report states.

[via The Associated Press]

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