While the South African government is going ahead with the implementation of a new sugar tax, a rural school in the Vhembe-Mutale district has decided to protect children from the harms of sugar by banning the sale of sugary drinks on the premises in a project that is proving to be both popular and successful.
Cutting down on sugar crucial
Since the beginning of the year the pupils at Mufulwi Primary have had no access to sugary drinks on the school premises.
"We came up with the idea to save these children from getting obese by stopping everyone selling sugary drinks at our school. They have to stop selling cold drinks or leave the school,” said Rendani Nemufulwi, deputy principal at the school.
Cutting down on sugar is crucial, and according to the SA National Health And Nutrition Examination Survey published last year, the average South African now consumes 17 teaspoons of sugar and similar sweeteners a day – on par with global consumption, which has increased by 46 percent in the past 30 years, per a report.
Earlier this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) proposed an update of its guidelines around sugar consumption that would limit sugar to less than five percent of total energy intake – or six teaspoons – per day.
Side-effects of too much sugar
One of the parents, Tambulani Mbedzi said, “My child always had problems with headaches and when we took him to the clinic we found out that it was actually because he was drinking a lot of sugary drinks at school. He said he did because they were really cheap.”
She said she was pleased with the school’s efforts, but that parents had a responsibility to carry the idea forward at home as well.
It was found that hawkers were selling sugary drinks cheaply at the school, sometimes offering lower prices to children buying several bottles. Children would be seen at school carrying two or three bottles of sweetened drinks which they had bought at a lower price.
“So we had to chase the hawkers away, because they did not stop. Then they tried to continue selling secretly, but we found out. The problem with these sugary drinks is that when our children consume them, they enjoy the sugar and lose their appetite for their everyday nutritional food and it goes to waste," said Nemufulwi.
One of the banned hawkers, Maria Kwinda, said "It is part of our job, and children like these sweet drinks. Now that we are no longer allowed to sell at school we can sell only at home, which is slowing down our business. We now get less money than we used to get when we sold at school.”
Parents welcome intervention
"We as parents are also aware of the risks our children face when we give them all the sweet drinks and other things. So we were told by the school that we must limit the sweet things we give to them. We are grateful for the school as they have recognised the importance of our children's health and took action. We are proud," said Gloria Masithi, another parent.
"Now that we have managed to stop the drinking of sweet/sugary drinks here at school. We have made it a point that every day each child must drink three cups of water, so they are now drinking water at break time. We are trying to sustain a good healthy lifestyle for them, and we also asked the parents to help by doing the same at home. Instead of feeding children sugary drinks, we must get them to drink pure water and also reduce the amount of other sugary foods they eat," said Nemufulwi.
The school’s initiative has been well received by parents, and children are adopting healthier habits as a result.