The soda industry is branding a worldwide call for a sugar tax on sweet drinks as “discriminatory” and “unproven” — but the World Health Organization is standing by its recommendation.
The WHO Wednesday called for all countries worldwide to implement a sugar tax in an effort to fight the global obesity epidemic and to stave off chronic diseases such as diabetes. Only a couple of major U.S. cities have adopted the tax so far on their own, but the practice has been gaining momentum worldwide.
A 20 percent price increase could reduce consumption of sweet drinks by the same proportion, the WHO stated in “Fiscal Policies for Diet and Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases,” a report issued on Tuesday, Oct. 11 (World Obesity Day). Drinking fewer calorific sweet drinks is the best way to curb excessive weight and prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes, although fat and salt in processed foods are also at fault, WHO officials said.
“We are now in a place where we can say there is enough evidence to move on this and we encourage countries to implement effective tax on sugar-sweetened beverages to prevent obesity,” said Temo Waqanivalu, of WHO’s department of Noncommunicable Diseases and Health Promotion, Reuters reported.
Obesity more than doubled worldwide between 1980 and 2014, with 11 percent of men and 15 percent of women classified as obese — adding up to more than 500 million people, the report stated.
The United States has the most obesity per capita.
Much like taxes have done for tobacco, there is increasing evidence that taxes and subsidies on sugary drinks influence purchasing behavior, according to the WHO. Mexico is just one example given by the organization, where a 2014 tax increase led to a 10 percent price hike and a 6 percent drop in purchases by year-end.