World Health Organization Calls for Global Sugar Tax to Tackle Rising Obesity Rates

World Health Organization Calls for Global Sugar Tax to Tackle Rising Obesity Rates

A new report produced by the World Health Organization’s Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity says the nations of the world should seriously consider tackling childhood obesity by taxing junk foods, most specifically, sugary beverages.

The 68-page report was the effort of more than two years worth of research on the food industry and the growing rates of obesity around the globe. And, says the report, the food industry is currently creating ubiquitous “ultra-processed, energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods,” putting tens of millions of people at risk for diet-related health issues every year.

Efforts employed by some food manufacturers such as traffic light labels or health star ratings have not been effective in slowing consumption of unhealthy foods and sugary beverages, the report says.

“It is only through providing clear, relevant and accessible nutrition information that is specific and tailored to the community, that such initiatives will enable consumers to make healthier choices,” a WHO spokesperson told FoodNavigator.

And while the report urges the food industry to work on producing healthier food options, it also urges governments to use their influence to enforce taxes and marketing restrictions of sugary beverages and snacks through sugar taxes.

“There is sufficient rationale to warrant the introduction of an effective tax on sugar-sweetened beverages,” the report said.

Mexico, which currently has the second-highest rates of overweight and obese citizens (behind the U.S.) recently imposed a sugar tax on sodas and other sugary beverages, and the government is reporting it to be effective with sales slowing and health improving.

As expected, the sugar industry rebuffs the WHO recommendations. Unilever, one of the world’s largest food and beverage manufacturers, called the sugar tax proposal “too simple.”

“A simple sugar tax would to me be too simple a solution,” said Unilever’s CEO Paul Polman. “It would be an easy political solution in the short term, but it would be too simple a solution.

“You need to attack this holistically with a lot of things. Just doing sugar alone has not proven to be the holy grail. It goes way beyond just putting a tax on sugar. Countries like Mexico and others that have done that are actually starting to see that as well.”

But WHO says these are desperate times and any effort is going to help. According to 2014 WHO estimates, approximately 41 million children under the age of 5 were battling weight issues. Around the globe approximately 13 percent of adults are obese, and those rates are significantly higher in the U.S. and Mexico, where about one-third of the populations are obese.

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Kid with sugary drinks image via Shutterstock

Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites OrganicAuthority.com and EcoSalon.com, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better. www.jillettinger.com.