The World Health Organization is backing a controversial remedy to reverse the global rise in obesity and Type 2 diabetes – a 20 percent to 50 percent soda tax.

The recommended tax should not be limited to soda, the WHO said Tuesday. It should apply to all sugar-sweetened beverages, a category that includes sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit punch, sweetened iced tea, vitamin waters and lemonade.

“If governments tax products like sugary drinks, they can reduce suffering and save lives,” Dr. Douglas Bettcher, director of the WHO’s Department for the Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases, said in a written statement.

The World Health Organization, the public health agency of the United Nations, said the reasons to act were clear. More than half a billion of the world’s adults are now obese, including 11 percent of men and 15 percent of women. Those rates are more than double what they were in 1980. In the United States, 34 percent of men and 38 percent of women are obese, which is defined as having a body mass index of 30 or above.

People who are obese have an increased risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S. They also are more likely to develop certain types of cancer, including breast cancer, colorectal cancer, renal cell cancer, esophageal adenocarcinoma, endometrial cancer, gallbladder cancer and thyroid cancer. The risk of stroke and Type 2 diabetes also rises with BMI.

The WHO cited the steady rise of diabetes as a primary reason for a sugary drink tax. Global health officials have been calling on people to limit the amount of added sugar in their diet to less than 10 percent of total calories. For an adult with a healthy weight, that works out to about 6 teaspoons of sugar per day. (A 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola contains the equivalent of nearly 10 teaspoons of sugar.)

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