The World Health Organization (WHO) recently voiced support for countries that choose to place a tax on sugary food and drinks in a report released on Tuesday, Oct. 18. In addition to taxation, WHO encourages countries to increase subsidies for fruits and vegetables. This report was released alongside another evaluation earlier this year, which suggested methods for combating obesity, which affects nearly 34 percent of men and 38 percent of women in the United States. Opponents of the tax, such as the International Council of Beverages Associations (ICBA), claim that this is discriminatory since the poor are often the ones who consume the sugary products due to their lower prices. This claim is ignorant, however, because it ignores the fact that WHO is trying to address a problem that is increasingly plaguing globalized countries, as well as poorer ones.
Those who oppose the sugar tax are hypocritical for claiming to be against the tax because of its “discriminatory” nature. These people stand to benefit from the consumption of these products, as the group ICBA is composed of companies such as the Coca Cola Company, Red Bull and PepsiCo. Their main concern is a downturn in sales, not a concern for the wellbeing of families across the world. If they were truly concerned for these families, perhaps they would recognize the role they play in causing a global health epidemic.
In nearly every globalized country, obesity is becoming a large problem that affects many individuals. In the United States alone, two out of every three adults are considered to be overweight or obese. Factor in the health problems that arise from obesity with the cost of health care to treat those problems and the benefits of a sugar tax seem to outweigh the costs. With the money from the tax, this could be used to subsidize healthier foods such as vegetables or be used to support education programs on fitness and healthy lifestyles.
Programs that are intended to educate people on how to be healthy are simply not effective when the problem arises from systemic failures. Education programs such as Let’s Move aim to teach children at a young age to make healthier choices when buying food, yet fail to consider the factors that go into decision making, such as price and amount. Telling a child to eat more vegetables is difficult when they are presented with a choice of eating cheap, but unhealthy food or an organic, yet expensive sandwich.
What most people don’t realize is that this goes back to different policies in our country. The United States gives its highest subsidies to farmers who grow feed to then be consumed by animals raised for slaughter, but farmers who grow vegetables are often ineligible for subsidies that would help to alleviate the growing prices for vegetables and healthier foods. Corn, which is one of the most highly subsidized foods, is often used to produce sweetener for sugary products and beverages that are fattening and unhealthy. If the government were to subsidize healthier foods such as fruits and vegetables, rather than corn, the choice between healthy foods and junk foods would no longer be such a debate.
Yes, raising the price of sugary foods won’t combat obesity in one move, but it definitely doesn’t hurt to discourage people from buying unhealthy products. Parents from low-income families don’t go into the supermarket intending to feed their children unhealthy foods, but when prices for healthier foods are higher, it is easy to understand why people opt for the cheaper, albeit unhealthy choice.