WHO Report Suggests Higher Taxes on Sugary Drinks

October 17, 2016

2 Min Read
WHO Report Suggests Higher Taxes on Sugary Drinks
The UN's WHO is taking aim at sugary drinks. Image courtesy of Flickr user seanparker

The United Nations’ World Health Organization (WHO) is taking aim at “Big Soda” and other producers of sugar-laden beverages. A report issued Oct. 11 urges countries to increase taxes on sugar-laden beverages in an effort to combat obesity, tooth decay, and type 2 diabetes.

The WHO is specifically targeting “free sugars” – monosaccharides (glucose or fructose) or disaccharides (sucrose or table sugar) – that are added to food products and drinks by manufacturers, cooks, or consumers and naturally-occurring sugars that are found in substances like fruit juice and honey.

“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 Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs) in a statement. “If governments tax products like sugary drinks, they can reduce suffering and save lives. They also cut healthcare costs and increase revenues to invest in health services.”

The organization suggests that a 20% increase in the retail price of sugary drinks through a tax increase can help curb consumption of high-sugar beverage products. According to the WHO’s data, 1 in 3 adults around the world were considered obese in 2014. 422 million people globally were living with diabetes in 2014, up from 108 million in 1980.

“Nutritionally, people don’t need any sugar in their diet. 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,” said the director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition for Health and Development, Dr. Francesco Branca, in a press release.

The new report found that subsidized fresh fruit and vegetables that lower retail prices by 10% to 30% can increase consumption of produce. Researchers identified some evidence that increasing taxes on sugary drinks can have a positive impact on consumption of those types of products. Mexico recently implemented an excise tax on high-sugar drinks. Other countries like South Africa and the United Kingdom have similar plans.

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