W.H.O. recommends 20% sugary drink tax
The W.H.O. is pushing for taxes that would boost the retail prices of “sugary” drinks by at least 20%.

GENEVA — The World Health Organization on Oct. 11 said taxes that would boost the retail prices of “sugary” drinks by at least 20% would result in a similar reduction in the consumption of such drinks, thus lowering “free” sugar intake and reducing obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay.

“Fiscal policies (taxes) that lead to at least a 20% increase in the retail price of sugary drinks would result in proportional reductions in consumption of such products,” the W.H.O. said, based on a Technical Meeting Report titled “Fiscal Policies for Diet and Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases.”

“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,” the W.H.O. said. “Nutritionally, people don’t need any sugar in their diet.”

The beverage industry called the recommendations discriminatory and unproven, and called for a more comprehensive approach to the issue.

The W.H.O. previously recommended that people limit added sugar intake to no more than 5% of their daily energy calories, which is lower than most current recommendations of a 10% maximum.

Douglas Bettcher, W.H.O.
Douglas Bettcher, director of the W.H.O.’s Department for the Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases

“Consumption of free sugars, including products like sugary drinks, is a major factor in the global increase of people suffering from obesity and diabetes,” said Douglas Bettcher, director of the W.H.O.’s Department for the Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases. “If governments tax products like sugary drinks, they can reduce suffering and save lives. They can also cut health care costs and increase revenues to invest in health services.”

The W.H.O. report said national dietary surveys indicate drinks and foods high in free sugars may be a major source of unnecessary calories in people’s diets, especially in children, adolescents and young adults.

“It also points out that some groups, including people living on low incomes, young people and those who frequently consume unhealthy foods and beverages, are most responsive to changes in prices of drinks and foods, and, therefore, gain the highest health benefits,” the W.H.O. said.

Fiscal policies (taxes) should target foods and beverages for which healthier alternatives are available, the W.H.O. said.

The recommendations were the outcome of a May 2015 meeting convened by the W.H.O., an investigation of 11 recent systematic reviews of the effectiveness of fiscal policy for improving diets and preventing noncommunicable diseases, and a technical meeting of global experts, the W.H.O. said.

The report cited existing taxes in Mexico and Hungary, and either announced or potential taxes in the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, South Africa, Philippines and some U.S. cities.

The International Council of Beverages Associations (I.C.B.A.), which includes the American Beverage Association, The Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo and other domestic and international companies and associations, said:

“I.C.B.A. is disappointed that this technical committee’s report advocates the discriminatory taxation solely of certain beverages as a ‘solution’ to the very real and complex challenge of obesity. We strongly disagree with the committee’s recommendation to tax beverages, as it is an unproven idea that has not been shown to improve public health based on global experiences to date. While we support W.H.O.’s efforts to address obesity, we believe a comprehensive approach including emphasis on the whole diet is necessary to achieve a real and lasting solution.

“Statements by the authors such as ‘people don’t need any sugar in their diet’ do not constitute helpful or real-world guidance to the millions of families trying to negotiate a healthy balance every day.”