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Government advisory committee tells US to consider taxing sugary foods and drinks

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The US should consider taxing sugary foods and drinks to discourage their consumption and nudge consumers toward healthier options, a group of scientists write in a report that will help to shape national nutrition policy. The report, published today by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, suggests that taxes on sugary foods could be used to fund other health efforts — such as educational programs or anti-obesity initiatives — or to subsidize the cost of fruits and vegetables. The recommendations come in response to "major public health concerns" around obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other medical issues caused or exaggerated by sugar intake.

It will take more than taxes to lower sugar intake, the report says

The committee's report is a lengthy, well over 500-page document filled with findings and recommendations on nutrition that the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture will use to inform the 2015 update to "The Dietary Guidelines for Americans." The guidelines are updated every five years. The committee, filled with government-appointed experts, is tasked with delivering a report on the latest scientific findings ahead of each update, though the government is not required to accept its recommendations. The final guidelines are due out later this year.

The recommendations say that the general population should try to keep their added sugar intake to no more than 10 percent of their total daily calories. The report recommends removing sugar from school lunches and encouraging people to drink water as well. Notably, and as previously reported, the committee also drops prior recommendations that cholesterol intake should be limited, citing no findings linking consumption of cholesterol to cholesterol in the blood. There are a handful of other changes — including recommendations on coffee consumption — that are nicely summed up over at Vox.

Taxing sugary substances is not without precedent, though it remains rare and controversial and is certain to be opposed by soda, candy, and other sweets manufacturers. And even if the recommendations make it through into the final guidelines, they'll still be just that: guidelines. The report recommends tailoring approaches within communities and neighborhoods, and that may be how a tax on sugar could most easily be implemented and properly targeted.

The committee believes that it will take more than just a tax to appropriately address the growing health issues linked to sugar, however. It writes, "Policies and programs at local, state, and national levels in both the private sector and public sector are necessary to support efforts to lower added sugars in beverages and foods and to limit availability of sugar-sweetened beverages and snacks."