Taxing sugary drinks can lower consumption and reduce obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay, says a new report by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Fiscal policies that lead to at least a 20 percent increase in the retail price of sugary drinks would result in proportional reductions in consumption of such products, according to the report titled Fiscal policies for Diet and Prevention of Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs).
Reduced consumption of sugary drinks means lower intake of ‘free sugars’ and calories overall, improved nutrition, and fewer people suffering from overweight, obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.
Free sugars refer to monosaccharides (such as glucose, fructose) and disaccharides (such as sucrose or table sugar) added to foods and drinks by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.
“Nutritionally, people do not need any sugar in their diet. WHO recommends that if people do consume free sugars, they keep their intake below 10 percent of their total energy needs, and reduce it to less than 5 percent for additional health benefits. This is equivalent to less than a single serving (at least 250 ml) of commonly consumed sugary drinks per day," says Dr. Francesco Branca, Director of WHO's Department of Nutrition for Health and Development.
The WHO report adds that fiscal policies should target foods and beverages for which healthier alternatives are available. Other findings from the report include:
Subsidies for fresh fruits and vegetables that reduce prices by 10-30 percent can increase fruit and vegetable consumption
Taxation of certain foods and drinks, particularly those high in saturated fats, trans fat, free sugars and/or salt appears promising, with existing evidence clearly showing that increases in the prices of such products reduces their consumption
Excise taxes, such as those used on tobacco products, that apply a set (specific) amount of tax on a given quantity or volume of the product, or particular ingredient, are likely to be more effective than sales or other taxes based on a percentage of the retail price;
Public support for such tax increases could be increased if the revenue they generate is earmarked for efforts to improve health systems, encourage healthier diets and increase physical activity.
A number of countries have taken fiscal measures to protect people from unhealthy products. These include Mexico, which has implemented an excise tax on non-alcoholic beverages with added sugar, and Hungary, which has imposed a tax on packaged products with high sugars, salt or caffeine levels. Countries, such as the Philippines, South Africa and the United Kingdom have also announced intentions to implement taxes on sugary drinks.