WHO panel split on soft drink sugar tax to cut obesity

June 5, 2018 in Nutrition for Children and Teenagers, Nutrition Topics in the News, Weight Management

WHO panel split on soft drink sugar tax to cut obesity

An independent panel advising the World Health Organization (WHO) stopped short of recommending taxing sugary drinks after failing to reach a consensus last week.

The U.N. agency said it would pursue the fight against child obesity and diabetes, but activists had hoped for a strong endorsement for a tax to discourage consumption of sweetened beverages. 

Some countries, such as Mexico, France and Britain, are already taxing sugary drinks and the WHO made a non-binding recommendation in October 2016 that governments should impose a 20 percent tax. 

The panel declined to give details of how its 21 members - who include heads of states and health ministers - voted. However, it said some of the evidence in favour of a tax had been queried. One panel member questioned the strength of evidence on sugar.

According to the WHO, its position will not change because of the report. It stated, that is “because youth consumption of sugar is associated with obesity. At the same time, taxing sugar was shown to reduce to reduce consumption in many countries".

The panel on Friday called on governments to increase efforts to fight an explosive epidemic of non-communicable diseases in low- and middle-income countries which account for 71 percent of all deaths globally. 

To achieve progress, “governments should work with: food and non-alcoholic beverage companies in areas such as reformulation, labeling, and regulating marketing”, its report said. 

The commission made six recommendations, including for government heads to take responsibility for disease reduction and to increase regulation. It did not mention taxes specifically. 

Britain’s sugar tax on soft drinks came into effect in April and led manufacturers to reformulate their products beforehand to be below the levy’s sugar threshold. 

France and Hungary have imposed taxes on drinks with added sugar, while Ireland gained EU approval in April.

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