Tax could offer hope for SA’s obesity crisis

2016-07-27 06:00
PROF. KAREN HOFMAN, director of Priceless SA. Photo: Supplied

PROF. KAREN HOFMAN, director of Priceless SA. Photo: Supplied

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SOUTH AFRICANS are faced with health risks due to obesity, which is increasing at an alarming rate as a result of the consumption of sugary drinks. Professor Karen Hofman, director of Priceless South Africa, said the findings of research they had conducted wer that inaction over the intake of sugary drinks could lead to a growing obesity epidemic. She said projections indicated that by 2017, there would be an additional 1,2 million obese adults in South Africa, with more than a quarter of this due to increased intake of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs).

According to Hofman, an estimated 70% of women and a third of men are presently classified as overweight or obese. She said the increase in obesity worked against the South African National Department of Health’s target of reducing the number of people who were obese or overweight by 10% by 2020. Its strategic plan for lifestyle diseases identifies several cost-effective preventive interventions to achieve this, one of which is the implementation of the proposed SSB tax in 2017.

“Fiscal interventions like the taxation of sugar-sweetened beverages are a win-win: They raise revenue and at the same time effectively prevent disease and health expenditures,” said Hofman.

Hofman said the finding of Pricless SA, a research unit based at the Wits School of Public Health, had shown that a 20% tax on SSBs could reduce the number of obese people in South Africa by close to a quarter of a million within the first three years and could generate revenue of approximately R6 billion per annum.

According to Hofman, support for the proposed tax is growing, with some of South Africa’s leading health professionals endorsing the move. Representatives of the Public Health Community of South Africa have sent a letter to the treasury, signed by 34 leading individuals and institutions, endorsing implementing a sugar tax as an important and cost-effective first step in preventing obesity, endorsing the government’s decision.

Hofman pointed out that death rates from these obesity-related lifestyle diseases were growing fast.

In 2011 diabetes, which is preventable in many cases, was ranked as the second-leading cause of death for South Africans aged between 15 and 49.

“Moreover, moderate obesity is associated with an 11% increase in healthcare costs and severe obesity brings a 23% increase in these costs.

“Research shows that by 2030, total health care expenditure as a result of adult diabetes alone will cost South Africa between $1 and $2 billion.”

Hofman said the proposed SSB tax in 2017 would complement the World Health Organisation’s recommendation that added sugar be limited to 5-10% of daily calorie intake.

For adults with a normal weight, this equates to a maximum of six to 12 teaspoons of added sugar, whereas just one fizzy drink contains between seven to ten teaspoons of sugar with no nutritional benefits.

Adults who choose to consume just one sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) a day, which includes fruit juice, increase their likelihood of being overweight by 27%. This statistic almost doubles for children at an alarming 55%.

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