The World Health Organization is urging countries to raise taxes on sugary drinks to combat the world’s growing obesity and diabetes epidemics.  

WHO made the plea to governments around the globe this week, and presented new data on the health benefits of imposing such a tax.

A tax on sugary beverages that would raise their price 20 percent would result in a proportionate reduction in their consumption, claimed the agency. This could have a massive impact on the battle against obesity, which has more than doubled since the year 1980. In 2014, roughly half a billion adults were obese (about 11 percent of men and 15 percent of women.)

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

Sugary drinks like sodas, fruit drinks, energy drinks and iced teas have been linked to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay, and discouraging their consumption could help reduce the impact of those health issues, says the agency.

WHO convened a panel of experts last year, who produced the numbers after reviewing the vast body of scientific literature on the topic (including mathematical modeling and studies of actual taxes applied in various parts of the world.)

Proposed sugary drink taxes have historically proven to be controversial in the United States. A soda tax in New York City was struck down in court, but Philadelphia and Berkeley, Calif., have successfully implemented such policies. In Mexico, a 2013 sugary drink tax prompted a significant decline in consumption. Hungary has placed a tax on packaged products containing high sugars, salt or caffeine levels. WHO spokesman Paul Garwood said South Africa and Britain were considering the sugary drink tax.

Approximately 42 million children under the age of five were estimated to be overweight or obese last year, up by about 11 million over the past 15 years, according to the agency. Roughly 48 percent lived in Asia and 25 percent in Africa.

h/t New York Times.