GENEVA - The World Health Organization (WHO) says the widespread consumption of sugar is a major factor in the growing global obesity epidemic. To help counter the trend, the U.N. agency is calling on governments to tax sugary drinks to lower consumption and reduce this worldwide health risks.
The call coincides with the publication of a new WHO report that found that in 2014 more than one third of adults around the world were overweight, with half a billion considered obese.
More troubling, the WHO estimates 42 million children under age 5 were overweight or obese last year. This represents an increase of about 11 million during the past 15 years. Nearly half of these children live in Asia and 25 percent in Africa.
The U.N. agency says unhealthy diets are behind the rise in diabetes, which now accounts for more than 422 million cases and an estimated 1.5 million deaths a year. It says the consumption of sugar, including products like sugary drinks, is a major factor in the global increase of obesity and diabetes.
Temo Waganivalu, coordinator for WHO's Department for the Prevention on Non-Communicable Diseases, told VOA putting a tax on sugary drinks would reduce consumption and save lives.
“If we increase the tax and that gets passed on to the consumers resulting in a 20 percent increase in price, you are more likely to get, and I say proportional, a 20 percent reduction in the consumption. In addition... you will be more likely to achieve the ultimate health outcome we are aiming for, which is the reduction in obesity and diabetes,” she said.
Waganivalu said Mexico, which in 2014 introduced a 10 percent tax on sugary drinks, had a 6 percent reduction in consumption by the end of the year. Among poor people, the number of consumers decreased by 17 percent.
The WHO report says China tops the worldwide obesity rankings with 43 million men and 46 million women. The United States, which has been bumped into second place, has 41.7 million men and 46 million women who are obese.
The WHO recommends people keep their sugar intake at below 10 percent of their total energy needs, and reduce it to less than 5 percent for additional health benefits. It warns people to be careful in their calculations because sugar is everywhere.
For example, one tablespoon of ketchup contains one teaspoon of sugar and an average cup of breakfast cereal contains about 4 teaspoons of sugar.