Sweet surrender: 'Sugar tax' pays off as SA cuts down on sugary cold drinks - study

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The Health Promotion Levy targets tax at sugar-sweetened beverages.
The Health Promotion Levy targets tax at sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • The SA government implemented a Health Promotion Levy in 2018 targeted at sugar-sweetened beverage.
  • A study of over 3 000 households shows that consumers reduced their daily intake of sugar and calories by half and reduced their purchases of beverages by more than a quarter.
  • Many countries, including Mexico, have used taxation to reduce the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

The Health Promotion Levy, commonly known as the "sugar tax", implemented in 2018, saw consumers reducing their daily intake of sugar and calories by half, and their purchases of sugary beverages fell by more than a quarter, research shows.

An observational study was conducted by PRICELESS-SA, a research policy unit led by the SA Medical Research Council and its partners at Wits, the University of the Western Cape and the University of North Carolina in the US.

It examined over 3 000 households' nutritional data - before and after the tax came into effect.

The research paper, Changes in beverage purchases following the announcement and implementation of South Africa’s Health Promotion Levy: an observational study, is the first which assesses the impact of the sugar tax on sugar and calorie consumption and was published on Thursday. The amount of tax charged is based on the amount of sugar.

The team found a 51% reduction in sugar, a 52% reduction in calories, and a 29% reduction in the volume of beverages purchased per person per day following implementation of the tax, a statement from Wits University read.

From a socioeconomic perspective, lower-income households benefited "greatly" from the tax. Before the tax, they had purchased more beverages than higher-income households. Following the implementation of the tax, there was a significant reduction in purchases, the research found. The paper noted that data from households that fall within the lowest category of the Living Standard Measure was not collected. These consumers make up between 5% to 10% of the South African population.

Many countries, including Mexico, have used taxation to curb the consumption of sugary beverages successfully.

"These results back up the impact we've seen from similar policies in other countries – that beverage taxes based on sugar content can help reduce excessive sugar and energy intake," said Professor Karen Hofman, director of PRICELESS-SA.

"… The lower-income households that experience the greater burden of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and other nutrition-related non-communicable diseases, benefit greatly from this Health Promotion Levy."

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