Diabetes experts tell G20 to tax sugar to save lives and money

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'Introduce a Sugar Tax' Say Health Officials

(Reuters) - Diabetes experts called on world leaders on Thursday to use sugar taxes to fight obesity, arguing such a move would save lives and slash healthcare budgets.

Ahead of a meeting of G20 leaders this weekend, the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) wants the dual epidemics of obesity and diabetes to be placed on the global agenda alongside major geopolitical and financial issues.

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With one death every six seconds, diabetes is now a bigger killer than HIV, tuberculosis and malaria combined. The IDF estimates that most countries spend between five and 20 percent of their healthcare budget on the disease.

Type 2 diabetes, which is closely linked to obesity and sedentary lifestyles, accounts for approximately 90 percent of cases and is rising fast, particularly in developing economies where people are shifting to Western diets.

The largest number of diabetics in the world now live in China.

Diabetes puts not only patients but whole economies at risk, according to Petra Wilson, chief executive of the IDF, an umbrella organization of more than 230 national associations.

She urged leaders of the Group of 20 (G20) of the world's major advanced and emerging economies, who are meeting in Turkey on Nov. 15-16, to cooperate in fighting obesity in the same way as they acted together in the 2008 financial crisis.

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Wilson said the call was part of an ongoing IDF campaign and there was no sign as yet if the G20would address the topic.

By 2040, one in every 10 adults on the planet are expected to be diabetic, with cases projected to reach 642 million against 415 million in 2015 and healthcare spending on diabetes rising to $802 billion from $673 billion.

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Diabetes experts tell G20 to tax sugar to save lives and money
In this photo taken Wednesday, May 13, 2015, Hayden Murphy, 13, sits for a photo with his medicine at his home in Plainfield, Ill. Hayden is among more than 400 children and adults participating in U.S. government-funded international research investigating whether experimental insulin capsules can prevent or at least delay Type 1 diabetes. To enroll, participants must first get bad news: results of a blood test showing their chances for developing the disease are high. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
In this photo taken Wednesday, May 13, 2015, Weston Murphy, 5, who has Type 1 diabetes, pricks his finger to test his blood at his home in Plainfield, Ill. His oldest brother is among more than 400 children and adults participating in U.S. government-funded international research investigating whether experimental insulin capsules can prevent or at least delay Type 1 diabetes. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
This photo taken Wednesday, May 13, 2015, shows insulin pills taken by Hayden Murphy, 13, who is participating in a study in Plainfield, Ill. to try to prevent or at least delay Type 1 diabetes. In Type 1, the pancreas stops making insulin, a blood sugar-regulating hormone that helps the body convert sugar in food into energy. Treatment is lifetime replacement insulin, usually via injections or a small pump. In Type 2, the body can't make proper use of insulin. It can sometimes be treated with a healthy diet and exercise. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
In this photo taken Wednesday, May 13, 2015, Weston Murphy, 5, who has Type 1 diabetes, checks his blood glucose meter at his home in Plainfield, Ill. In Type 1, the pancreas stops making insulin, a blood sugar-regulating hormone that helps the body convert sugar in food into energy. Treatment is lifetime replacement insulin, usually via injections or a small pump. In Type 2, the body can't make proper use of insulin. It can sometimes be treated with a healthy diet and exercise. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
In this photo taken Wednesday, May 13, 2015, Hayden Murphy, 13, right, holds his brother, Weston Murphy, 5, who has Type 1 diabetes, at their home in Plainfield, Ill. Hayden is at high risk for Type 1 diabetes, and is participating in a study to find out if insulin pills may prevent or at least delay its onset. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
This photo taken Wednesday, May 13, 2015, shows the infusion set of Weston Murphy, 5, background, who has Type 1 diabetes, on the dining table at his home in Plainfield, Ill. In Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas stops making insulin, a blood sugar-regulating hormone that helps the body convert sugar in food into energy. Treatment is lifetime replacement insulin, usually via injections or a small pump. In Type 2, the body can't make proper use of insulin. It can sometimes be treated with a healthy diet and exercise. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
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Some countries, including Mexico, Chile and France, have already experimented with different variations of sugar taxation but there are considerable political obstacles, as well as resistance from the food industry.

Mexico, for example, has seen calls by some lawmakers for a halving in the country's sugar tax. British Prime Minister David Cameron came out a against such a tax last month, despite a high-profile campaign for a levy on sugary drinks and food.

SEE MORE: Decoding natural sugars

Wilson, whose immediate focus is on getting governments to back a tax on sodas and othersugar-sweetened beverages, admits there are hurdles but argues politicians need to protect public health by learning the lessons from tobacco.

"It is very well established that heavy taxation on tobacco and relentless reinforcement of the message that tobacco is unhealthy has had a very good effect. It is time now we adopted a similar approach with sugar," she told Reuters.

"It is, of course, more difficult with sugar because whilst people can live entirely without tobacco, they can't live entirely without sugar - but humans can live without added sugars."

(Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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