The advice comes as more and more countries are considering fiscal measures to dissuade people from buying large quantities of sugary soft drinks, which have been identified as a major cause of the global obesity crisis.
According to a WHO report, a tax of 20% or more results in a drop in sales and therefore consumption of sugary drinks. This results in people consuming fewer ‘free sugars’ such as fructose and glucose, taking in fewer calories and reducing their risk of tooth decay.
According to Dr Douglas Bettcher, director of the WHO’s department for the prevention of non-communicable diseases, a major factor in the global increase of people suffering from obesity and diabetes is the consumption of free sugars, such as sugary drinks. He says: ‘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.’
The WHO has previously published nutritional advice reporting that sugar isn’t required in anyone’s diet. Its guidance says we should restrict our intake of free sugars to a maximum of 10% of our energy needs, preferably 5%.
The UK government’s scientific advisory committee on nutrition and health echoed that advice, which led to the decision to introduce a sugary drinks tax in the UK in 2018. Other countries, including the Philippines and South Africa, are now looking at introducing similar measures.
Mexico’s 10% tax on sugary drinks appears to have successfully reduced sales and consumption.
The WHO says a tax has most impact on the young, those on low incomes and others who consume a lot of sugary drinks and will have the greatest positive effect on the health of those groups.
Other effective fiscal measures include subsidising fresh fruit and vegetable prices by 10-30% and taxing food and other drinks that are high in saturated fats, trans fats, free sugars and salt.