WHO backs taxing sugary drinks to stop chronic diseases

soda*Urges subsidies for fresh fruits, vegetables to encourage consumption

At last, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has officially backed the call for the ‘ban’ or rather placing higher taxation on sugary drinks and fast foods to discourage their consumption.

A new report by WHO, published yesterday, said taxing sugary drinks could lower consumption and reduce obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay. It also found that subsidies for fresh fruits and vegetables that is reducing prices by 10–30 per cent can increase fruit and vegetable consumption.

According to the report titled “Fiscal policies for Diet and Prevention of Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs)”, fiscal policies that lead to at least a 20 per cent increase in the retail price of sugary drinks would result in proportional reductions in consumption of such products.

It noted that 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 or 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.

Other key findings of the WHO report include:

*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.

Director of WHO’s Department for the Prevention of NCDs, Dr. Douglas Bettcher, said: “Consumption of free sugars, including products like sugary drinks, is a major factor in the global increase of people suffering from obesity and diabetes.

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

Until now, several professional health bodies in Nigeria including the Diabetes Association of Nigeria (DAN), National Society of Endocrinology and Metabolism (NSEM) and the Nutrition Society of Nigeria (NSN) have been calling for reduction in the intake of sugary foods and added sugars.

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