Health experts urge sugar tax to fight global obesity

by | Nov 12, 2015 | News

Marino Greco

The International Diabetes Federation says taxes on sugar would reduce healthcare costs and preserve lives (Oregon State University / flickr)

The International Diabetes Federation said taxes on sugar would reduce healthcare costs and preserve lives (Oregon State University / flickr)

Health and diabetes experts are calling on world leaders to impose sugar taxes to combat obesity and save lives.

The International Diabetes Federation issued the warning Thursday, ahead of this weekends’ meeting of G20 leaders in Turkey.

Petra Wilson, chief executive for the federation told Reuters it is time to adopt an approach to sugary products similar to ones taken globally with other unhealthy products.

“It is very well established that heavy taxation on tobacco and relentless reinforcement of the message that tobacco is unhealthy has had a good effect,” Wilson said.

The federation said countries spend between five and 20 per cent of their health care budget on diabetes, and around the world every six seconds someone dies from the condition.

But individuals in the medical community caution against singling out total sugar intake as the enemy.

Dr. Thomas Wolever, a diabetes expert with the department of nutritional sciences at U of T, told Humber News total sugar intake has not been linked scientifically to any specific health problems.

“Avoiding sugar unduly can mean you’re not eating a lot of healthy foods and it’s associated with low nutrient intake,” Wolever said, adding “there’s a lot of misinformation about sugar.”

He said the call for taxes on the substance may need to be refined, adding that he feels soft drink manufacturers should be targeted.

“If you’re going to tax, you’ve got to focus on what has been shown to be harmful – not a sweeping generalization,” Wolever said.

Khosrow Adeli, a University of Toronto nutrition expert, agreed not all sugars can be grouped in the same category.

“The amount [of sugar] we take from fruits and vegetables is actually very small – less than 20 grams a day,” Adeli said. “It’s the added sugar that’s the problem.”

“It certainly does some have addictive effects and causes addictive behaviour, but I would say the evidence is not very strong that it causes an addiction,” he said.