The World Health Organization (WHO) is urging countries to apply a tax on sugary drinks to fight the obesity epidemic, a measure that Mexico has applied since a couple of years to try to stifle a worrying trend of obesity and diabetes.

Now, facing a global onslaught of obesity -one in three adults worldwide is overweight, the WHO said in a report published this week- the organization is campaigning for a 20-percent rise in the price of sugary drinks, that it expects could drive to a proportionate reduction in their consumption. Since mid-2015 the organization gathered a panel of experts to research measures like taxes and subsidies on healthier alternatives such as fresh fruit. They presented their results in a report named Fiscal Policies for Diet and Prevention of Non-Communicable Diseases.

In Mexico, since 2014 a special tax on production and services (IEPS) was applied to sugary drinks. MX$1 (US$0.05) per liter for drinks containing more than five grams of added sugars for every 100ml. Countries such as Hungary have imposed a tax on a package of sugary products. Also, some states in the US, like Philadelphia and California, have already adopted a tax. In South Africa and Britain this regulation is under consideration.

After two years of the application of this measure in Mexico and despite IEPS supporters saying the consumption of sugary drinks has decreased, leaders of the carbonated drink industry say they have not seen any changes and that in fact their sales have grown. Earlier this year, a pressure group proposed doubling the tax on sugary drinks to two pesos per liter. The federal budget proposal for 2017 contains provisions for the continued application of that tax and a similar one to high-calorie foodstuffs, with a projected income of around US$2.0 billion for the year.

The main diseases this tax is trying to target are obesity, diabetes and tooth decay. Statistics presented by the WHO show 42 million children in the world under the age of five were overweight on 2015. This represents an increase of about 11 million over the last 15 years. The obesity rate for adults more than doubled worldwide between 1980 and 2014, it said. The report classifies low income consumers, young people, and those in risk of obesity as the most potentially benefited by the price change.


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