Offering endless free refills of sugary soft drinks has been banned by the French government as a further effort to stem rising obesity rates.

In 2012, the country introduced a “soda tax on drinks with added sugar or sweetener. That followed a 2004 ban on all vending machines in schools. Neither seems to have had much impact on the country’s rising obesity rates.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended taxing sugary drinks, linking them to obesity and diabetes, most recently in a 2016 report on Fiscal Policies for Diet and Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases.

The new regulation affects all public food service establishments, from family restaurants to fast-food chains to school cafeterias.

Recent data (2014) from the European Health Interview Survey says that almost 1 adult in 6 in the EU (15.9%) is obese, defined as a BMI of 30 or over. The French obesity rate was 15.3 percent.

Do “Sin” Taxes Have Any Impact?

A similar soda tax of 10% was imposed in Mexico in 2013, where more carbonated drinks are consumed per person than any other nation. The country also has one of the world’s highest rates of childhood obesity.

The prevalence of overweight and obesity in Mexico is more than 33% for young people aged 2-18 years (about the same across all age groups) and around 70% for adults (half of whom are obese).

Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health, along with the University of North Carolina, conducted research on the impact of the tax. According the study, in the first year the tax reduced consumption of sugary drinks by an average of 6% over the 12 months, reaching 12% by the month of December. The reduction was largest among the households of the lowest socioeconomic status.

Although the new French ban targets sugary soft drinks, it also applies to refills of milk, energy drinks, fruit syrups or nectars and water-based drinks where sugar or synthetic sweeteners have been added. The measure came into force on January 27, 2017.

M Arantxa Colchero, et al Beverage purchases from stores in Mexico under the excise tax on sugar sweetened beverages: observational study BMJ 2016;352:h6704

Image: DocChewbacca/Flickr

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