In a not-so-sweet move, the World Health Organization recommended that countries use taxes to increase the prices of sugary drinks in an attempt to curb the growing obesity pandemic spreading the globe.
“Consumption of free sugars, including products like sugary drinks, is a major factor in the global increase of people suffering from obesity and diabetes,” says Dr. Douglas Bettcher, the head of WHO’s Department for the Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases. WHO, as part of the United Nations, timed the statement for World Obesity Day.
Between the years 1980 and 2016, obesity in the world nearly doubled. Currently, 40 percent of the world’s population is overweight. The organization has previously held off on recommending taxes, until now.
The recommendation was based on a 36-page report in fiscal policy and diet. WHO cites strong evidence saying that subsidies that reduce prices for healthier foods such as fruits and vegetables can improve diets. The report recommended a 20 percent tax on sugary drinks, which would result in an equivalent reduction in sugar consumption by consumers. Other benefits to the imposed tax include increased health benefits for consumers and more tax revenue for world governments.
Mexico and Hungary have already put a tax on their sugary products, with South Africa slated to do the same. WHO has noted a large increase in consumption in China and sub-Saharan Africa. According to WHO, 60 percent of children in these nations consume soft drinks daily. In the United States and Europe, that number ranges from 20 to 40 percent of the adolescent population.
The United States attempted to mirror the recommendations of WHO. Studies showed that residents of Berkeley consumed 21 percent less sugary drinks after the tax took effect. The tax was approved by voters in November 2014. It was the first city to pass a soda tax. The city of Philadelphia has also levied a tax of 1.5 cents per ounce on sugary products. It used the revenue to fund the city’s pre-kindergarten program.
A campaign supporting the new tax in Berkeley was funded in part by Michael Bloomberg, New York City’s former mayor. He had a similar, albeit more draconian, plan for the city.
Both Bloomberg and his successor Bill de Blasio, the current mayor, strongly supported a plan that would have banned the sale of sugary drinks that are over 16 ounces in weight. This was met with strong opposition from New Yorkers and soda companies. It was overruled because it exceeded the regulatory authority of the New York City Department of Health.
The findings in Berkeley showed just how successful a tax could be. Not only does the tax deter consumers from purchasing sugary substances, but it also informs consumers of the dangers behind these kinds of drinks.
There is nothing wrong with the WHO making these recommendations, which attempt to help civilians live healthier and longer lives. These recommendations are fair and are strongly supported by direct scientific evidence. Adopting them would only improve society.