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Call for taxes against chronic disease

Thursday April 5th, 2018

Taxes on soft drinks, alcohol and tobacco are a key factor in tackling chronic diseases, according to a major global analysis published last night.

The taxes achieve “major health gains” for the poor rather than disproportionately harming them, according to the report in The Lancet.

Experts analysed some 283 international studies including data from India, China and Brazil. Another 66 global studies found that these diseases place a substantially greater economic burden on poor households than on the wealthy.

They concluded that even in wealthy countries such as the UK, taxes on consumption of “unhealthy” products benefited the poor more than the wealthy. The experts conclude that a minimum price for alcohol would achieve a seven times greater response among the poorest than among the wealthiest.

Dr Rachel Nugent, who led a taskforce on non-communicable diseases and economics for the journal, said: “Responding to this challenge means big investments to improve health care systems worldwide, but there are immediate and effective tools at our disposal.

“Taxes on unhealthy products can produce major health gains, and the evidence shows these can be implemented fairly, without disproportionately harming the poorest in society.”

World Health Organisation director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus writes in the journal: “Every year, almost 100 million people are pushed into extreme poverty because of out-of-pocket health spending, and the costs of treating non-communicable diseases are a major contributor to this global scandal. Nobody should lack access to health services because they cannot afford to pay.”

The findings were welcomed by the UK’s Royal College of GPs.

Chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: “Today’s findings from The Lancet provide helpful further evidence that taxes on these unhealthy products are an effective response to combatting higher rates of chronic diseases without disproportionately affecting people from lower socio-economic backgrounds so we need to ensure this new evidence is reflected in future health policies going forward.

“Physical Activity and Lifestyle is a clinical priority for the College, and we are working to develop resources for GPs and their teams to support them in encouraging patients to make simple changes to help them lead healthier lifestyles.”

Niessen L W, Mohan D, Akuoku J K, et al. Tackling socioeconomic inequalities and non-communicable diseases in low-income and middle-income countries under the Sustainable Development agenda. Lancet 4 April 2018; doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(18)30482-3

Tags: Diabetes | Diet & Food | Heart Health | UK News | World Health

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