WHO backs controversial sugar tax on sweetened beverages to stem obesity

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Tuesday it would support a 20% to 50% tax on sugary drinks by governments as a solution to the global rise in obesity and type-2 diabetes.

The UN agency said the recommended tax should not only be limited to soda but all sugar-sweetened beverages such as sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit punch, sweetened iced tea, vitamin waters and lemonade.

If governments tax products like sugary drinks, they can reduce suffering and save lives,” Dr. Douglas Bettcher, director of the WHO’s Department for the Prevention of Noncommunicable Disease, said in a statement.

The health agency said that the reason to act now was because nearly half a million adults worldwide are now obese including 11% of men and 15% of women. It says that rates have more than doubled since 1980. In countries like the United States, 34% of men and 38% of women are obese, which is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above.

People who are obese are more likely to develop heart disease, cancer and other non communicable diseases. The agency said that 442 million adults worldwide have diabetes of which 1.5 million died in 2012 alone.

The WHO believes that a sugar tax by governments would be the appropriate remedy to reduce consumption of sugary drinks. People will buy less of them. The authors of the study looked at countries that already levy sugary drinks such as Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, Finland, and came to the conclusion that it is the best solution to lowering sugary drink consumption and obesity.

“The greatest impact was on lower-income, less-educated younger populations and populations at greatest risk of obesity,” the authors wrote.

The report also proposed using subsidies to reduce the price of fresh fruits and vegetables by 10% to 30% to encourage people to buy them.

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