Taxing sugary drinks will reduce obesity - WHO

A report published by WHO urges governments around the world to tax sugary drinks by 20% in order to curb obesity.

Photo by: AP
Photo by: AP

Soft drink and soda bottles are displayed in a refrigerator in San Francisco, Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016.

Governments should tax sugary drinks to fight the global epidemics of obesity and diabetes, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Tuesday.

But the sugar industry swiflty branded these recommendations as "discriminatory" and "unproven".

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.

They added that a 20 percent price increase could reduce consumption of sweet drinks by the same proportion.

"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," Temo Waqanivalu, of WHO's department of Noncommunicable Diseases and Health Promotion, told a briefing.

Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, now an ambassador for WHO's noncommunicable diseases department said, "Smart policies can help to turn the tides on this deadly epidemic, especially those aimed at reducing consumption of sugary drinks, which is fuelling obesity rates."

The global soft drink market is worth nearly $870 billion in annual sales.

2016 could be the year of the sugar tax, as several large nations are considering levies on sweetened food and drinks to battle obesity and fatten government coffers.

Granulated sugar is shown in Philadelphia, Monday, Sept. 12, 2016. A new study released shows details of how the sugar industry worked to downplay emerging science linking sugar and heart disease.

The US-based soft drinks industry's lobbying arm - whose members include Coca-Cola Co, Pepsico Inc and Red Bull - strongly disagreed with what it called "discriminatory taxation".

"It is an unproven idea that has not been shown to improve public health based on global experiences to date," the Washington-based International Council of Beverages Associations said in a statement.

A comprehensive approach based on the whole diet was needed for a lasting solution to obesity, it said.

Drinks are on display at a supermarket in London. Britain has unveiled a plan to battle rising child obesity by urging food manufacturers to cut down on sugar and getting primary schools to make pupils do more exercise.

The WHO said there was increasing evidence that taxes and subsidies influence purchasing behavior and could be used to curb consumption of sweet drinks.

In Mexico, a tax rise in 2014 led to a 10 percent price hike and a 6 percent drop in purchases by year-end, the report said.

Read the report here.