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Proposed tax on sugary drinks a good start, says dietitian

World Health Organization recommends 20 per cent tax on sugar-sweetened beverages
The World Health Organization has recommended governments worldwide tax sugary drinks to lower their consumption and reduce the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay. File photo.

The World Health Organization's recent recommendation that all countries implement a 20 per cent tax on sugary drinks is a good place to start, says a Sudbury dietitian. 

In a new report, the World Health Organization said taxing sugar-sweetened beverages can lower their consumption reduce the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay worldwide.

“I think it's a pretty complex problem, so there's not going to be an easy solution,” said Ashley Hurley, a registered dietitian with the City of Lakes Family Health

Team in Sudbury. “But if there's a behaviour we want to discourage, then this is just one way of doing it.”

In February 2016 Dietitians of Canada made a similar recommendation and the Sudbury and District Health Unit followed suit in July.

In 2014, more than one in three adults worldwide aged 18 years and older were overweight, said the World Health Organization in its report. Worldwide prevalence of obesity more than doubled between 1980 and 2014, with 11 per cent of men and 15 per cent of women (more than half a billion adults) being classified as obese.

In addition, an estimated 42 million children aged under five years were overweight or obese in 2015, an increase of about 11 million during the past 15 years.

Almost half of these children lived in Asia and 25 per cent in Africa.

“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 Dr Douglas Bettcher, director of World Health Organization’s Department for the Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases, in a press release. 

“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 World Health Organization has said governments should use income from a sugary drink tax to subsidize fresh fruits and vegetables.
Subsidies for fresh fruits and vegetables that reduce prices by 10 per cent to 30 per cent can increase their consumption, it said.

“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,” the World Health Organization added.