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WHO exhorts govts to impose fiscal curbs on sugar drinks

Press Trust of India  |  New Delhi 

The has called on governments to impose fiscal measures like taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages to discourage their consumption and prevent obesity and diabetes, prompting the Centre to look into the matter.

The global health body, in its latest report, reiterates the need for a fiscal policy which includes subsidies for vegetables and fruits and taxes for unhealthy food alternatives.

"There is increasing evidence that appropriately designed taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages would result in proportional reductions in consumption, especially if aimed at raising the retail price by 20 per cent or more," according to the report titled 'Fiscal Policies for Diet and Prevention of NoncommunicableDiseases'.

The report says that providing subsidies for fresh fruits and vegetables by reducing their prices by 10-30 per cent can lead to increased consumption of such healthy items.

A senior official of the Health Ministry said, "We will study the report."

Reduced consumption of sugary drinks would mean lower intake of "free sugars" and calories, thus leading to improved nutrition and fewer people will suffer from overweight, obesity, diabetes and tooth decay, the report said.

The report also cites the success of tobacco taxes and specific excise taxes in bringing in healthy practices.

"It has been proven that tobacco taxes, specifically excise taxes - as opposed to sales or other taxes based on a percentage of retail price, are likely to be most effective in restricting unhealthy food choices," it says.

According to the report, the revenue generated from such taxes could be invested in health services.

WHO also maintained that in the past, 'The Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases 2013-2020' had proposed "use of economic tools that may include taxes and subsidies to improve access to healthy dietary choices and create incentives for behaviours associated with improved health outcomes and discourage the consumption of less healthy options."

"The Comprehensive Implementation Plan on Maternal, Infant and Young Child Nutrition 2012 by WHO also considered trade measures, taxes and subsidies as an important means of guaranteeing access and enabling healthy dietary choices," it said.

The WHO report of the Commission on Ending Childhood also recommended "implementing an effective tax on sugar-sweetened beverages."

According to the global body, more than 1 in 3 adults aged 18 and above were overweight in 2014.

In addition, an estimated 42 million children aged under 5 years were overweight or obese in 2015, an increase of about 11 million during the past 15 years. Almost half of these children lived in Asia, it said.

The number of people living with diabetes has also been rising, i.E from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014, WHO added.

And to achieve the UHC by 2030, India requires a

vision covering 10-15 year period like the way Thailand, Mexico and China have adopted, Dr Lahariya stressed.

"The process of advancing UHC in India needs to have a 10-15 year vision, so that it can be achieved in the country by 2030. Most of the countries such as Thailand, Mexico and China have followed similar path," the WHO official said.

Apart from the Centre, the states should take the initiative and top leaders including the Chief Ministers should lead from front in this drive, he added.

The official further commented that since health is a state subject in India, it was imperative that the process is led by the states and owned and guided by top political leadership such as Chief Ministers and Health Ministers from the very beginning.

"It has to be guided by experts throughout the process and there is sufficient expertise available in India, in most settings, to support the process," Dr Lahariya said.

Healthcare improvement is possible through multi-sectoral engagement (Nutrition, Sanitation and Social Justice), he observed.

Urging all stakeholders to come forward, he said "faculty members of departments of Preventive and Social medicines (PSM) can play a linkage between community members and other sectors."

The three-day IAPSM conference which concluded yesterday was attended by over 800 doctors working in departments of the PSM across the country.

First Published: Thu, October 13 2016. 18:57 IST