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Soft Drinks, Hard Questions

In March, the British government announced that, to tackle childhood obesity, it intends to introduce a tax on sugary drinks in 2018. Whether the tax, which will be debated this summer, achieves its public-health goals depends on the details – and on rigorous evaluation of its effects.

OXFORD – In March, the British government announced that it intends to introduce a tax on sugary drinks in 2018 to tackle childhood obesity. Whether the tax, which will be debated this summer, achieves its public-health goals depends on the details, and on rigorous evaluation of its effects.

The United Kingdom is not alone in worrying about the global rise in obesity-related ailments like diabetes and cardiovascular disease – costly conditions that can lead to significant disability and early death. Many countries have introduced, or are considering, taxes on unhealthy foods and drinks – in particular, those to which sugar has been added.

For example, Chile has an 18% tax on high-sugar drinks; France taxes drinks with both added sugar and artificial sweeteners; and Hungary taxes food and drink with high sugar, salt, and caffeine content. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, recently became the largest US city to introduce a tax on sweetened drinks.

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