Obesity: Just a spoonful of sugar ...

2014-08-24 15:00

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Downing just one drink sweetened with sugar a day makes children 55% more likely to be overweight, a study has shown.

That’s why academics and dieticians believe the idea of a sugar-sweetened beverage tax shouldn’t be dismissed as the work of a nanny state.

The latest sugar-fuelled debate has been sparked by a Wits University study that was published this week. It suggested a sugar-sweetened beverage tax was a smart way to particularly reduce obesity in adults.

The study, which appeared in the Plos One medical journal, concluded that if the price of fizzy drinks was increased by 20%, there could be a reduction in obesity among men by 3.8% and women by 2.4%.

Lead author Mercy Manyema said it is government’s responsibility to protect its population’s health.

“One way of doing so is through ‘nudging’ people to make healthier and more sustainable choices. A sugar-sweetened beverage tax has the potential to do this in addressing obesity-related diseases,” Manyema said.

While the study focused on adults, there’s another generation of sugar fans on its way. City Press asked children if they’d be upset if their parents stopped buying sugary juices and fizzy drinks for them.

Samuel Jordaan (8) said he would be happy because he doesn’t like fizzy drinks. “I only drink apple juice once in a while, and mummy always gives me water to carry to school.”

Samuel Jordaan wouldn’t mind
if his mum stopped buying sugary drinks – he prefers
water and juice.

His twin brother Ezekiel was less enthusiastic. He loves Sprite and isn’t sure how he’d react if his mum Hannerie banned it entirely from their home.

“Mummy only gives us water and we have fizzy drinks once in a while,” he said.

But he has a backup plan. “My granny always gives me Sprite.”

“My granny always gives me Sprite,” says Ezekiel Jordaan, who has a sweeter tooth than his twin brother.

Saffiya Güles, also eight, loves grape-flavoured Fanta and would be “cross” if her mother stopped buying it altogether. “She only buys it for me on special occasions, like when we are eating out. She makes me carry Ceres fruit juice, which is not bad. But I love Fanta more.”

If her Fanta supply from her mother dried up, Saffiya knows her dad would buy it for her, she said.

Drinks sweetened with sugar aren’t the only thing making South Africans fat – but its impact can’t be ignored, according to experts.

Professor Karen Hoffman from Wits Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Research Unit in the School of Public Health, said foods with a high sugar content are linked to weight gain. “Drinking just one sugar-sweetened beverage a day increases the likelihood of being overweight by 27% for adults and 55% for children,” said Hoffman.

Aviva Tugendhaft, who worked on the Wits study, said: “This is not surprising considering one 330ml serving of a fizzy sweetened drink contains an average of eight teaspoons

of sugar and the same amount of sweetened fruit juice contains an average of nine teaspoons of sugar.”

Only the US and the UK have more obese people than South Africa, and a recent survey by the SA Medical Research Council found that 61% of our population is overweight, obese or morbidly obese.

Lynn Odendaal, a Joburg-based dietician, says obesity is a major risk factor for heart diseases, cancer and hypertension. “Local research is showing us that the rise in noncommunicable diseases is placing a huge burden on the country’s health system.

“So anything that could help decrease the number of obese people should be welcomed,” said Odendaal.

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