A technical committee of the World Health Organization (WHO) has released a report suggesting that countries should tax soft drinks as much as 50 percent to improve public health. In an article for Reason.com, food lawyer and professor Baylen Linnekin breaks down why the WHO proposal is “wrong and unjustified.”
Linnekin points out that the Los Angeles Times compiled a list of the top arguments that the soda tax movement should expect to hear starting with: “fairness (consumption taxes are a bigger burden for poor than rich people), freedom (the government shouldn’t interfere with your personal choice of what to drink), trust (officials won’t spend the tax revenue the way they say they will) and economics (small business will be harmed if taxes discourage sales).”
Linnekin also points to a 2014 report from economic analysts McKinsey Global Institute, which used the same methodologies as WHO. The report found that a tax on foods high in sugar or fat is ranked 14 out of 17 for effective intervention measures for obesity. Not very effective, in other words.
WHO used to know this up until a few months ago. Earlier this year, what did WHO recommend as an effective strategy to combat obesity? It wasn’t soda taxes.
“WHO recommends other price policies such as subsidies for, or lower taxation of, healthy food as well as initiatives to encourage people to eat a healthier diet, avoid tobacco and be more physically active,” the body wrote in its April bulletin.
Simply put, taxes don’t make people healthy. Instead of fruitlessly pursing a Band-Aid fix to solve obesity, we should work together to advance real and lasting solutions that will help people to balance all they eat and drink, not just the very small portion of calories we get from beverages that contain sugar. Information on how to maintain a balanced lifestyle and lower-calorie choices to help achieve it is the realistic approach that works.