WHO Urges for Sugary Drinks Tax

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World Health Organization, sugary drinks

Geneva, Switzerland—On October 11, 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a new report which urged countries to tax all sugary drinks in an effort to reduce obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay.

The report, titled “Fiscal Policies for Diet and Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDS),” refers to a tax increase of at least 20%, which could result in a reduction of consuming sugary drinks, lower the intake of “free sugars” and calories and an overall improvement in nutrition.

“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 Douglas Bettcher, Ph.D., Director of WHO’s Department for the Prevention of NCDs, in a statement. “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.”

Between 1980 and 2014, WHO’s report points out, worldwide obesity doubled “with 11% of men and 15% of women (more than half a billion adults) being classified as obese.” In 2015, the report estimates 42 million children under the age of 5 were overweight and people living with diabetes rose from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014.

“Nutritionally, people don’t need any sugar in their diet,” said Bettcher. “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.”

In response to the report, the International Council of Beverages Associations issued a statement that they were “disappointed that this technical committee’s report advocates the discriminatory taxation solely of certain beverages as a ‘solution’ to the very real and complex challenge of obesity. We strongly disagree with the committee’s recommendation to tax beverages, as it is an unproven idea that has not been shown to improve public health based on global experiences to date. While we support WHO’s efforts to address obesity, we believe a comprehensive approach including emphasis on the whole diet is necessary to achieve a real and lasting solution.  This total diet approach is supported not only by WHO’s own food-based dietary guidance, but also by the McKinsey Global Institute’s 2014 Report, which found that taxing beverages is one of the least effective interventions in reducing calories in the diet.”

WHO’s new report comes on the heels of Philadelphia passing a tax on sweetened beverages and the American Heart Association announcing new recommendations for added sugars.

Posted on WholeFoods Magazine Online 10/20/2016