By Thierry Malleret, economist
A by-product of rising global economic growth is the concomitant rise in obesity rates. As more and more people in emerging markets access middle-income status and become part of the rising middle class, their eating habits change. They start adopting American food culture (often perceived as a status symbol), by consuming in particular sugary drinks in much too large quantities.
Most experts now agree that taxing these “sugar bomb” beverages is the only way to contain the rapidly rising obesity rates that could slow or even reverse the gains in health and life expectancy in much of the world. This is giving rise to a fierce battle.
In the words of a recent article in The New York Times, “the battle over taxing sugar-sweetened beverages is becoming one of the world’s most ferocious policy brawls — a clash of science, politics and money in dozens of countries and cities”.
In the richest countries, this battle takes the form of lobbying campaigns. In the U.S., for example, the food and beverage industry has already spent more than $107 million (since 2009) to beat back soda taxes and beverage warning labels. In emerging markets, the battle between soda makers and obesity tax advocates is nasty and dangerous (for the obesity tax advocates…). There are many instances of organizations and doctors campaigning for an obesity tax being physically threatened or silenced.
Over the next few years, this clash will only intensify, putting the fight against obesity and sugary drinks at the forefront of wellness.