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Raising Tax On Sugary Drinks Will Address Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes: WHO

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A report, titled "Fiscal policies for Diet and Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs)", suggests that fiscal policies in this matter can lead to at least 20 percent increase in the retail prices of sugary drinks, which would result in proportional reductions in the consumption of these products.

At its turn, a lower rate of consumption would have a positive effect on the total calorie intake and "free sugars", improving nutrition and resulting in fewer overweight, diabetic or obese people.  

Free sugars are monosaccharides (e.g.: glucose, fructose) and disaccharides (e.g.: sucrose, table sugar), and are added to most of the foods and drinks — usually in the cooking or preparing phase. However, there are some monosaccharides and disaccharides that are added directly by the consumer (usually when it comes to pastries and drinks), such as honey, syrups, juices etc.

The report appears as a necessity, given the increasing rate of nutritionally unhealthy lifestyles.

"Consumption of free sugars, including products like sugary drinks, is a major factor in the global increase of people suffering from obesity and diabetes. If governments tax products like sugary drinks, they can reduce suffering and save lives. They can also cut healthcare costs and increase revenues to invest in health services," explained Dr. Douglas Bettcher, Director of WHO's Department for the Prevention of NCD's.

A fact sheet on obesity states that the worldwide level has more than doubled since the 1980s, and in 2014 there were more than 1.9 billion overweight adults, out of whom 600 million were obese. The situation is even more dire, as 39 percent of the adults were overweight in 2014, out of whom 13 percent were obese.

While taxing sugary drinks may seem as a drastic measure, it is also a governmental duty to look for the citizens' best interests, especially since obesity is preventable. Regardless of the genetic predispositions, more than one in three adults have problems keeping their weight under control and an estimated number of 41 million children under the age of 5 are undergoing the same problems. This is no longer a matter of predisposition, and it needs a more powerful incentive than education in order to be effective starting short term.

According to the report, fiscal policies would be most efficient if targeting beverages that have healthier alternatives on the market, therefore pushing the consumer toward the least harmful products. Connected matters identified by the report correlate this measure with reducing the prices for fruit and vegetables by 10 to 30 percent in order to stimulate consumption. Taxes per ingredients or quantity of product on the shelf are also more effective, according to the same report.

There are countries that have already applied fiscal measures addressing unhealthy products, one of which is Mexico, where an excise tax on non-alcoholic drinks with sugar was implemented. Hungary has also applied tax on packaged products with high sugar and caffeine levels.

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