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WHO: Increase prices of sugary drinks to lower consumption and reduce obesity

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World Health Organisation (WHO) has called upon all countries in the world to increase prices of sugary drinks by 20 per cent in a bid to reduce their consumption and thereby reduce obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay.

The increase in prices of sugary drinks through fiscal policies has been sought by WHO through its report titled “Fiscal policies for Diet and Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs)” as it believes that the reduction in consumption of sugary drinks will reduce the overall intake of “free sugars” and calories and this will effectively mean the fewer people will suffer from overweight, obesity, diabetes and tooth decay caused by sugars present in such drinks.

WHO notes that free sugars comprise of monosaccharides i.e. glucose or fructose and disaccharides such as sucrose or table sugar, which are added to foods and drinks by the manufacturer, cook, or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices, and fruit juice concentrates.

Sugar consumption through free sugars has been pegged as one of the major reasons of increase in obesity around the world and the one of the best solutions could be to increase their prices by imposing sugar tax as has already been imposed by Philippines, UK and Mexico. The reduction in consumption of sugary drinks will help reduce suffering of millions of people worldwide as they will be able to cut down on their health care costs and lead healthy lives.

Reports indicate that more than a third (39 per cent) of adults globally were overweight in 2014 and in the period between 1980 and 2014, worldwide prevalence of obesity has more than doubled. If that was not it, more and more children are getting obese and according to an estimate by WHO, 42 million children aged under 5 years were overweight or obese in 2015. Number of people living with diabetes has also been rising, from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014. The disease was directly responsible for 1.5 million deaths in 2012 alone.

WHO says that people do not really need any sugar in their diet as far as nutrition is concerned. Even if people do consume free sugars, they should keep their consumption levels to below 10 per cent of their total energy needs. According to the new WHO report, national dietary surveys indicate that drinks and foods high in free sugars can be a major source of unnecessary calories in people’s diets, particularly in the case of children, adolescents and young adults.

The report notes that fiscal policies are the way forward for reducing consumption of sugary drinks. Further, fiscal policies geared towards promoting alternatives to sugary drinks also reap benefits. A study recently found that if subsidies for fresh fruits and vegetables are given such that they reduce their prices by 10–30 per cent, there is a substantial increase in consumption of fruit and vegetable.

Various forms of taxation could be tax on certain foods and drinks, particularly those high in saturated fats, trans fat, free sugars and/or salt; 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; among other measures.

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.

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