GENEVA, SWITZERLAND — A World Health Organization report on childhood obesity includes a recommendation to tax sugar-sweetened beverages. The report from the W.H.O.’s “Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity” also covers such areas as the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children and the implementing of school meal standards.
“Overall, the rationale for taxation measures to influence purchasing behaviors is strong and supported by the available evidence,” the report said. “Further evidence will become available as countries that implement taxes on unhealthy foods and/or sugar-sweetened beverages monitor their progress. The commission believes there is sufficient rationale to warrant the introduction of an effective tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.”
The report said price influences low-income consumers the most.
“Fiscal policies may encourage this group of consumers to make healthier choices (provided healthier alternatives are made available) as well as providing an indirect educational and public health signal to the whole population,” the report said.
Some countries may consider taxes on food high in fat and sugar, the report added.
In response, the Washington-based American Beverage Association said no evidence shows taxes on grocery items like beverages improve public health.
“Recent studies on the effect of a soda tax in Mexico show that it resulted in a reduction of 4.9 calories per day, an amount not even measurable on a bathroom scale,” the association said. “Moreover, despite tax proponents’ unfounded claims that soft drink consumption is the driving factor behind obesity, health data prove that the prevalence of public health challenges such as obesity continues to grow even though sugar consumption from soda dropped by 39% since 2000.”
The W.H.O. report cited a study published on-line Jan. 6 in the BMJ. The study found a an excise tax of one peso per liter on sugar-sweetened beverages implemented on Jan. 1, 2014, in Mexico has been associated with an overall 12% reduction in sales.
Globally, at least 41 million children age 5 and under are overweight or obese, according to the W.H.O. report. Overweight prevalence in that age group rose to 6.1% in 2014 from 4.8% in 1990. The number of overweight children in lower middle-income countries rose to 15.5 million in 2014 from 7.5 million in 1990.
The report, which was released Jan. 25, listed six areas that may help to end childhood obesity: intake of healthy foods; physical activity; preconception and pregnancy care; early childhood diet and physical activity; health, nutrition and physical activity for school-age children; and weight management.
“Overweight and obesity impact on a child’s quality of life as they face a wide range of barriers, including physical, psychological and health consequences,” said Sania Nishtar, Ph.D., co-chair of the commission. “We know that obesity can impact on educational attainment, too, and this, combined with the likelihood that they will remain obese into adulthood, poses major health and economic consequences for them, their families and society as a whole.”
The report recommended regulations on the marketing of foods and beverages to children to limit the consumption of items high in fat, sugar and salt by infants and young children. The report recommended establishing standards for school meals and eliminating the sale of unhealthy foods and drinks at schools.
The W.H.O. report called for increased government action.
“The greatest obstacle to effective progress on reducing childhood obesity is a lack of political commitment and a failure of governments and other actors to take ownership, leadership and necessary actions,” the report said. “Governments must invest in robust monitoring and accountability systems to track the prevalence of childhood obesity. These systems are vital in providing data for policy development and in offering evidence of the impact and effectiveness of interventions.”
In developing the report, the W.H.O. consulted with more than 100 W.H.O. member states and reviewed nearly 180 on-line comments.For the complete report, visit link.