Medics: Years of Indian health gains would be wasted without soda tax

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

Related tags: Nutrition, Public health, Tax

An international group of 50 medical professionals has united to call on Indian lawmakers to sign off on a proposed sin tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.

The group, drawn from America, Britain, Brazil and Mexico, as well as India, said that the country stood to reverse decades of public health gains if an alarming increase in rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular diseases was allowed to be left unchecked.

India’s chief economic advisor earlier this year proposed a substantially increased tax of 40% to bring sugary drinks in line with tobacco levies. India’s parliament is expected to vote on the proposal as part of the larger Goods and Services Tax Bill.

The medical professionals’ statement, which was mailed to key members of parliament and officials, notes that: “While processed foods in general are a source of concern, an increasing body of new public health research shows that one set of products—­sugar-sweetened beverages—­poses a unique risk of increasing the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease​.” 

The statement cited a 2014 study by Stanford University, which found that a 20% tax on sugary drinks in India would avert 11.2m cases of overweight and obesity and 400,000 cases of type 2 diabetes between 2014 and 2023. 

Such a tax would also substantially increase revenue available to the government to support other public health measures, they wrote.

In January, the World Health Organisation issued a strong public statement in favour of taxation on sugary drinks, and another report released last week showed that more Indian men die from diabetes than in any other country.

Many of the statement’s signatories have led international initiatives to tax sugar sweetened beverages, including recent successful efforts in Mexico, South Africa and Britain, as well as ongoing efforts in cities such as San Francisco, Oakland and Philadelphia in America.

All of the evidence we have to date suggests that taxing sugary drinks would be far more powerful and effective for protecting public health than simple education measures​,” said Sanjay Basu, assistant professor of medicine at Stanford University and one of the signatories.

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