Doctors from Major Countries Support Proposed Sin Tax on Sugar Sweetened Beverages

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Article106.pngMedical doctors and experts from the US, UK, India, Brazil and Mexico have come together to support the proposed sin tax on sugar sweetened beverages in India. In a joint statement, experts from these countries have said that a changing Indian diet landscape was leading to an alarming increase in rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, ad cardiovascular diseases in India while cautioning that India stands to reverse decades of public health gains if these trends are left unchecked. Recently, India’s Chief Economic Advisor proposed increasing sin taxes on aerated drinks containing added sugars and treating it similar to tobacco.  The proposal is expected to come up for a vote in Parliament as part of the larger Goods and Services Tax Bill. The statement, which has been mailed to key Members of Parliament and Ministries in India this week, 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 (SSBs) ­pose a unique risk of increasing the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.”

In the US, where 69% of adults are  overweight or obese, 36% of the added sugars consumed come from liquid drinks such as carbonated beverages, juices and energy drinks. In January this year, the World Health Organization issued a strong public statement  in support of SSB-taxation, and another report released last week showed that more Indian men die from diabetes than in any other country. Many of the statement supporters have led initiatives internationally to tax sugar sweetened beverages, including recent successful efforts in Mexico, South Africa, UK and Berkeley, as well as ongoing efforts in cities such as San Francisco, Oakland and Philadelphia in the US. ""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. Such taxes also generate funds to further support public health and combat the rising rates of chronic diseases in India,"" said Dr. Sanjay Basu, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Stanford University and one of the originators of the statement.

 India would follow the successful taxation strategies in Mexico and parts of the United States, which have significantly lowered SSB consumption. Mexico introduced a soda tax in January 2014 and saw a 12% drop in SSB sales by December 2014. A 2014 Stanford University study concluded that a 20% tax on SSBs in India would avert 11.2 million cases of overweight/obesity and 400,000 cases of type 2 diabetes between 2014 and 2023. The tax would also substantially increase revenue available to the government to support other public health measures. With over 60 million people with type 2 diabetes, the Indian government has a duty to its citizens to address a crisis that causes such misery, and that threatens to break an already over-burdened public health system. Diseases caused by SSBs—such as diabetes—are chronic, irreversible conditions that will levy a heavy burden on health care spending for many decades to come and will particularly impact low-income Indians disproportionately. India cannot afford to ignore the changing diet landscape that will exact a high toll if current trends in the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages continue. Taxing sugar-sweetened beverages in ways similar to tobacco is a positive step forward to protect the public health interests of all Indians, the joint statement said.

Some other signatories to the statement include Dr. Arun Gupta, Senior Pediatrician and Regional Coordinator, International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) Asia, New Delhi; Dr. Anand Krishnan, Professor, Centre for Community Medicine, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi; Prof. K. Srinath Reddy, President, Public Health Foundation of India, New Delhi; Frank B. Hu, MD, PhD, Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston; Michael F. Jacobson, PhD, President, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Washington, DC; Robert S. Lawrence, MD, Professor of Environmental Health Sciences and International Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore; Reynaldo Martorell, PhD, Robert W. Woodruff Professor of International Nutrition, Hubert Department of Global Health & Senior Advisor, Global Health Institute, Emory University, Atlanta and Dr. Carlos A. Monteiro, Professor of Nutrition and Public Health, School of Public Health at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

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