The World Health Organization (WHO) has published an October 2016 report claiming that “taxing sugary drinks can lower consumption and reduce obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay,” according to a concurrent press release. Titled Fiscal Policies for Diet and Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs), the report collates information gathered during a May 2015 technical meeting of fiscal-policy experts who evidently concluded that “there is reasonable and increasing evidence that appropriately designed taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages would result in proportional reductions in consumption, especially if aimed at raising the retail price by 20% or more.”

The report summarizes the effect of fiscal policies—including food and beverage taxes, nutrient-focused taxes and subsidies—on health outcomes in Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, Finland, France, Hungary, Mauritius, Mexico, Philippines, Thailand and the United States. “Some of the challenges faced in implementation include a lack of appropriate capacity for tax administration, tax set at low levels that prove inefficient in influencing behavioral choices, and a lack of monitoring and evalua- tion of the health impact,” notes the report. “It was established from all presentations that countries attempting to progress fiscal policies face considerable political and industry opposition.”

Among other things, WHO recommends that countries considering the use of fiscal policies to affect diet first need to determine (i) the type and structure of the tax, (ii) what products to tax, and (iii) the implications for nutrition-related programming. The organization also draws parallels to tobacco taxation, arguing for “specific excise taxes” adjusted to inflation and income “to effectively reduce affordability and discourage consumption over time.” The report adds, “Similarly strong evidence shows that subsidies for fresh fruits and vegetables, that reduce prices  by 10–30%, are effective in increasing fruit and vegetable consumption… Taxation of other target foods and beverages, particularly those high in saturated fats, trans fatty acids, free sugars and/or salt appears prom- ising, with existing evidence clearly showing that increases in the prices of target options reduces their consumption.”