WHO calls for sugary drink tax

Luis Britez
Science & Tech Correspondent

How can the world combat the growing obesity epidemic that has stricken countries worldwide? Easy, just tax sugar.
That is the solution that the World Health Organization has recently urged countries with alarming obesity rates to follow up on. Obesity ratings have doubled since the 1980s, and it has only been continuing to increase. With a half a billion adults in the world recorded obese, it has become imperative for nations to find ways to stagnate this epidemic.

People diagnosed with obesity typically have a Body Mass Index (BMI) measured over 30, and one of the leading causes are the high amounts of sugar consumed from sugary drinks, such as sodas and energy drinks. Negative health effects include diabetes and tooth decay, which is not only discomforting, but extremely hazardous to a person’s health.

Obesity appears to be an issue among the poor, specifically children. According to the Food Research & Action Center, the lack of grocery stores and farmers’ market for low-income neighborhoods usually leads to people shopping at inexpensive corner and convenience stores, where the supply of healthy foods and drinks are low, and the cheaper alternatives of sugary and high fat products are at a high. In the world, 42 million children under the age of 5 were reportedly estimated to be obese, according to the agency. With 48 percent of these children living in Asia and 25 percent in Africa, the future health risks for them are substantial.

The resolution proposed by the World Health Organization isn’t exactly new, as Mexico in 2013 successfully passed a sugary-drink tax, leading to a 17 percent rapid cut in consumption. Cities such as Philadelphia and Berkeley, California have also recently voted for the policy with some success. Berkeley has seen a steep 21 percent drop of consumption of sugary drinks since imposing the tax in 2014. The existing evidence seems to supports the theory of taxation of products with high sugar leads to decrease in consumption.

Philadelphia, while not implementing the tax until next year, will be taxing 1.5 cents per ounce to the cost of drinks with a sugar-based sweetener or artificial sugar substitute. To put that in perspective, the current selling cost of a 67.6 ounce Coca-Cola Classic without is $1.99 (sales tax: $2.15). When the sugary-drinks tax takes effect, there will be a $1.01 tax instilled to the current price. This will hike the cost more than 50 percent, with the new price being $3.00 (sales tax: $3.16).

The 20 percent tax on sugary beverages suggested by the agency is likely to “save lives and cut health care costs,” according to director Douglas Bettcher Ph.D. of the WHO’s Department for the Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases. While more and more countries are following suit for similar policies, the best way to manage sugar intake in the meantime is to drink no more than eight ounces of sugary drinks.

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