WHO Thinks 20% Sugar Tax Could Help Curb Obesity

Coca Cola bottles on shelf

According to a recent report from the World Health Organization (WHO), a 20 percent increase in sugary drinks’ prices through taxation could help fight the obesity and diabetes epidemic. It is the first time the international body announces its support for the controversial sugar tax.

WHO experts noted that the so-called “sugar tax” placed on soft drinks has discouraged sugar consumption and “improved nutrition” in countries that enforced it. Worldwide, just a handful of countries have a sugar tax including Hungary and Mexico.

The panel said it plans to see the consumption of “free sugars” drop. Experts believe this could lead to lower rates of diabetes, obesity and tooth decay.

According to experts, “free sugars” are the sugars found in various types of foods including syrups, juices, and honey. The natural sugars in fruit or milk do not belong to this category.

Dr Francesco Branca, who is a nutrition expert with the WHO, explained that “nutritionally” the human body doesn’t need any sugar in food. He recommends keeping sugar intake to 10 percent of the overall calorie intake. But the healthiest option would be below 5 percent.

The WHO thinks taxation should only apply to items that have “healthier alternatives.”

The group based its report on experts’ recommendations and a recent review of available literature. WHO investigators also learned that subsidies for healthy foods such as fruit and vegetables can boost consumption. In addition, the report shows similar taxes levied against salt, and foods containing unhealthy fats had positive results as well. One expert described taxes on sugar, tobacco, saturated fats, and alcohol as “sin taxes.”

According to the expert, these taxes generate tremendous revenue while being easy to enforce. Also, there is strong evidence that taxation can lower consumption of these products.

A plethora of studies found sugar can lead to many chronic diseases. But despite the evidence people keep consuming it. For instance, a 2014 study revealed sugar can boost risk of heart disease and stroke.

Doctors have pointed out for years that sugar can only add “empty calories” to our bodies. Empty calories are the main culprits for the obesity epidemic worldwide. However, sugar does not only make us fat, it also makes us chronically ill.

Limits on Sugar Intake in the U.S.

While the WHO recommends sugar intake to stay below 10 percent of our daily calories, The Institute of Medicine thinks 25 percent is a safe limit. In the American Heart Association’s view, 100 to 150 calories per day are safe.

The U.S. government hasn’t yet placed any official restrictions on sugar intake, and the FDA considers the product to be “generally safe.” But this label means that the food industry can pour as much sugar as it wants in our food, which may explain the obesity and diabetes epidemic in the U.S.

The FDA replied to criticism about its lax policy on sugar by saying that it doesn’t set limits to what people eat. The agency also said that it first needs to see whether there is any scientific evidence on the benefits of such regulatory limits.

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