February 2, 2023 —  Referring to the cancellation of Israel’s sweetened beverage tax, as “a grievous blow to public health,” Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) Prof. Aron Troen and a renowned worldwide group of senior health scholars have published a letter in The Lancet, the prestigious medical journal, seeking to overturn the harmful, hasty, and costly decision.

Approximately 64% of adults in Israel are overweight, defined as a body mass index over 25 according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Childhood obesity is on the rise, and its poor populations carry the greatest burden of associated chronic diseases, like diabetes. The direct and indirect costs of obesity to Israeli society are estimated at 20 billion NIS (approximately $5.8 billion) annually.

“Since its introduction a year ago, the tax has reduced the consumption of sweetened drinks by about 10%,” says Troen, who is a member of the World Federation of Public Health Associations. “The fact that world health leaders have responded shows what an important issue we’re dealing with. Canceling the tax is irresponsible, an act of public health malpractice, and an outrage.”

In the letter, the authors state that “Revoking the tax will undoubtedly harm lives and increase the direct and indirect economic costs to Israel’s health system and economy, both in the short term and long term. More broadly, this act undermines hard-won progress made elsewhere around the world. It is a serious setback for evidence-based public health policy and will be celebrated by vested interests who promote their products and disregard the need for policies that uphold the public’s health and welfare. This decision will be seen as prioritizing sectorial political interests over incontrovertible scientific evidence and public health best practice.”

The scholars conclude the letter by, “calling on the Government of Israel to reconsider and retract this ill-conceived and hasty decision. Instead, let the revenue from the soda tax be used to combat chronic diseases including obesity, as well as promote nutrition security by increasing economic access to healthy diets, narrowing health disparities, improving the health and welfare of all Israeli citizens, and setting an example for world health leadership.”

Other co-authors include Darius Mozaffarian, Dean for Policy at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science who co-chairs the task force that informed the White House Conference on Hunger and Nutritional Security; Barry Popkin, a world-renowned health economist, and Hagai Levine from the Hebrew University School of Public Health and chair of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians.

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