PARIS — Sugar should be identified alongside alcohol and tobacco as a health danger, and governments should tax sweetened drinks and food as part of their efforts to combat it.
So says a commentary, published on Thursday in the journal Nature as part of a widening debate among doctors and policymakers about food fiscality and health.
Around 35 million people die each year of non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes and a wave of obesity is unfurling from rich countries to developing economies, say three US academics who authored the piece.
Tobacco and alcohol are already regulated by governments to protect public health, “but one of the primary culprits behind this worldwide health crisis (is) unchecked,” they say.
A levy on added sugars would help meet the growing costs of meeting sugar-related health problems and discourage consumption, they suggest.
In the United States, the government is currently considering a soda tax that would raise the price of a can of fizzy drink by around 10-12 US cents, bringing in some 14 billion dollars a year of revenue.
But “statistical modelling suggests that the price would have to double to significantly reduce soda consumption — so a one-dollar can should cost two dollars,” say the trio.
Other suggestions include restricting the sale of added-sugar food and drinks in schools and letting states curb the number of fast-food outlets and convenience stores in poorer neighbourhoods and provide incentives to set up grocery stores and fresh-food markets.
The authors are pediatrics and obesity specialist Robert Lustig and health policy researchers Laura Schmidt and Claire Brindis, all at the University of California at San Francisco.
Consumption of sugar worldwide has tripled in the past 50 years, adding hugely to daily average colorie intake, especially in the United States.
More and more scientific evidence, says the commentary, suggests chronic sugar consumption has a slow-moving, complex but devastating role in metabolic syndromes such as hypertension and diabetes.
This class of diseases cost the US alone 65 billion dollars a year in lost productivity and 150 billion in medical care, it says.