The World Health Organization is calling upon government agencies to support a tax on sugary drinks as a means of combating obesity.
An increase of as much as 20% on the price of sugary drinks could result in a significant reduction in people drinking the beverages, according to recommendations issued Tuesday by the WHO (PDF).
The report also found sufficient evidence that giving people subsidies that dropped the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables between 10% and 30% led to more more people eating them.
“Greater effects on the net energy intake and weight may be accomplished by combining subsidies on fruit and vegetables and taxation of target foods and beverages,” according to the report. “Vulnerable populations, including low-income consumers, are most price-responsive and, in terms of health, benefit most from changes in the relative prices of foods and beverages.”
The recommendations come at a time when soda taxes are an election issue. Voters in Boulder Colo., San Francisco, Oakland and Albany, Calif., will see measures on the November ballot. The laws are modeled after Berkeley's, which in 2015 levied a 1 cent per ounce excise tax that resulted in a 21% decline in consumption of sugary drinks.
In June, Philadelphia passed a 1.5 cent per ounce tax on sugar-sweetened and diet beverages, becoming the first major city in the country to pass such legislation after previous efforts in New York City were ultimately overturned in court.
Sugar consumption is linked with a number of chronic conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.
An estimated 39% of adults around the world in 2014 were categorized as being overweight, according to the WHO. Between 1980 and 2014, the global obesity rate has doubled. Among children, it has steadily increased over the past decade from 5% who were obese in 2000, to 6% by 2010.
The International Council of Beverages Association responded to the WHO's recommendation with "disappointment."
"We strongly disagree with the committee's recommendation to tax beverages, as it is an unproven idea that has not been shown to improve public health based on global experiences to date,” the group stated.