Sugary drinks to be taxed to fight the flab?

Reviving a taste for water could cut between 300 and 600 calories a day from the diet of an average American or Mexican and almost as much from the intake of many Europeans...

A nutrition expert who has advised the U.S. government and health policy makers around the world, says the epidemic of obesity and weight gain sweeping the globe could be slowed dramatically if sugary drinks were taxed like cigarettes.

Reviving a taste for water could cut between 300 and 600 calories a day from the diet of an average American or Mexican and almost as much from the intake of many Europeans, he says.

‘Depending on the country you live in, we now have between 10 and 25 percent of all calories consumed in sugary or caloric beverages,’ Barry Popkin, a professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina, told Reuters during a visit to Europe.

‘This change has been phenomenal, particularly in the past 25 years. It’s not the sole cause of the global obesity problem, but it’s the thing we can change with the least effect on people’s food intake.’

A report released on Wednesday said one in three American adults is obese, while a 2008 study by Popkin on China suggested obesity levels there are also rising rapidly, with more than a quarter of the population overweight or obese.

Popkin, who has studied diet in many countries in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East as well as in the United States, says the shift away from water to sugary drinks could be responsible for between a third and two thirds of the weight gain in the past 30 years.

But Popkin says efforts to tackle rising weight levels are focused too much on promoting exercise and healthier eating, and ignore the huge impact of calorie-laden drinks like juices, alcohol, fizzy soda and high fat, sugary milkshakes.

‘Activity is not the solution – you can’t run off a Coke or an ice cream cone or candy bar very easily – it takes a lot of exercise to offset an extra hundred calories,’ he said.

‘I’d like a system where sugary drinks were taxed the most, diet drinks less and water not at all,’ Popkin said. ‘If that tax added even 15 or 20 percent to the cost, it would have a significant effect on weaning society off sugary drinks.’

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