MANILA - Taxing sugar-sweetened beverages will help reduce consumption, boosting the fight against obesity that is costly and hurts productivity, an economist said Tuesday.
President Rodrigo Duterte is seeking a P10 per liter excise tax under a system-wide overhaul that he hopes to pass this year to help fund his P8-trillion infrastructure program.
Citing both local and US studies, University of the Philippines economics professor Cielo Magno said a 10-percent increase in prices could cut sales by 10 percent.
"We should also be concerned with the financial costs that lifestyle diseases will have on the public health care system particularly if we are moving towards universal health care coverage," Magno said.
"The burden of these lifestyle diseases can be avoided with proper diet and nutrition. It becomes imperative that we push society towards a healthier diet," she said.
Magno proposed that "majority" of revenues from duties on sugar-sweetened drinks be allocated to a feeding program for children and poor families to address malnutrition.
"In that way, the new policy will be able to effectively address the double burden of malnutrition: undernutrition and obesity," she said.
A similar tax is being implemented in Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, Mexico, France and the United States and is endorsed by the World Health Organization, she said.
"Now that a similar law is being proposed in Congress, we need to assess whether the current proposal is the best response in addressing our nutrition problems," she said.
Beverages accounted for 2.8 percent of household caloric intake in 2015, up from 1.6 percent in 2003, Magno said, citing a study from the Food and Nutrition Research Institute.
Excluding milk and milk products, sugar-sweetened beverages are a major source of added sugar. Around 45 percent of such beverages consumed by Filipinos are softdrinks, followed by coffee and tea (29 percent) and fruit juices (9 percent).
The 2013 national nutrition survey showed high intake of sugar sweetened drinks can lead to obesity and high cholesterol levels, she said.
"Poor health traps individuals into poverty. It reduces an individual’s productivity, burdens household with rising medical costs and caring for the sick which requires some members of the household to give up employment or schooling to provide such care," Magno said, citing the 2010 Philippine Global Burden of Disease report.
"Unfortunately, these unhealthy foods are also very cheap and addicting, causing individuals to make poor choices in terms of nutrition," she said.