Could a Soda Tax Prevent Type 2 Diabetes?

The obesity epidemic currently effects over 600 million people worldwide – and about 42 million of those people are under age five. Obesity has been linked to several health disorders such as hypertension, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes, which is why the medical community has sought to encourage healthier lifestyles for young people for years.

And now, the World Health Organization has suggested a new solution.

Sugar Tax to Save Lives

In their report, titled “Fiscal policies for Diet and Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs),” the WHO suggested that nations around the world institute a tax on sugary drinks that contribute to obesity. These include soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit punch, sweetened iced tea, vitamin waters and lemonade.

The WHO calls for a tax of at least 20 percent for these types of beverages, though they did indicate that the tax could go as high as 50 percent. This, they believed, will dramatically reduce the consumption of these drinks – and this, according to Dr. Douglas Bettcher, director of the WHO’s Department for the Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases, will “reduce suffering and save lives.”

Their recommendation follows a recent study on the sugar tax in Mexico. In 2014, the nation implemented a tax of one peso (about $0.06 USD) to every liter of soda; they found that sale of soda and other sugary drinks decreased by 6 percent, and water sales increased by 4 percent.

Too Tough To Swallow?

While the WHO's suggestions emphasized the importance of curbing obesity and fostering healthier people, there are some who find the idea of a soda tax a little hard to take in. Following the report's publication, the International Council of Beverages Associations released a statement decrying the role of soda on public health.

“It is an unproven idea that has not been shown to improve public health based on global experiences to date,” the Association said. Similarly, organizations such as Coca-Cola Co, Pepsico Inc and Red Bull have come forward in opposition to what they consider a “discriminatory tax.”

And the soda industry isn't alone in their opposition to soda taxes; earlier this year, the city of Philadelphia passed a soda tax and was promptly sued by local businesses. Whether or not the WHO's suggestion will be met with real action remains to be seen.

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