Once again the notably slender nation of Vietnam is warned to adapt or face a full-blown obesity crisis within the next generation. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has put forth recommendations to deal with the rising taste for sugary soft drinks using tax.
Last week in Hanoi, the Ministry of Health ran a workshop aimed at tackling the rise of child obesity, with sugary soft drinks targeted as one of the main offenders. Deputy Director of the National Institute of Nutrition, Truong Tuyet Mai, stated that Vietnam looks set to consume over five billion litres of sugary soft drinks this year alone. This is up by one billion litres from 2016, according to Euromonitor International, who recorded four billion litres of sugary drinks sales in Vietnam and noted that trend is only set to rise.
Working as a consultant for WHO, Dr. Guillermo Paraje noted that Vietnam is not keeping up with the legislative developments of other nations when it comes to sugary soft drinks. At present, there is no special consumption tax on sugary soft drinks in Vietnam, but over 40 countries worldwide have imposed such a tax in a bid to quell the rise of obesity. Many governments fear excessive consumption can put strain on not only their citizens’ health, but also national healthcare systems. Export.gov is a collaborative market effort of 19 US governmental agencies working under the US Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration. In 2017, they analysed Vietnamese healthcare systems and found that most hospitals are outdated and face chronic overcrowding. Vietnamese public hospitals rely largely on a state budget to upgrade their facilities, equipment and services. The total budget for the health sector has increased, but is still too low to meet the demands.
In short, Vietnam would be ill-prepared for an obesity epidemic, but despite this there has been lots of opposition to the WHO’s warning – predominantly from the Ministry of Trade – regarding a potential sugary soft drinks tax. VNXpress reported that, “The Ministry of Industry and Trade said in a statement that imposing a special consumption tax on soft drinks because they contain sugar is not a convincing enough reason. It said the finance ministry needs to give a clearer explanation as to why soft drinks should be subject to higher taxes and why their consumption should be restricted.”
VNXpress went on to establish that besides it being a growing international norm, the WHO’s warning comes following a series of studies that directly link the excessive consumption of sugary soft drinks to obesity. These in turn can lead to a variety of non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases and would drastically increase the national risk of heart attacks, strokes and hypertension. How this will play out remains to be seen, but with the possibility of an obesity epidemic lurking just beyond the horizon, it’s clear that governmental action will determine the outcome.