LIFESTYLE

Sugary Drink Tax Won't Solve All Problems, But Might Help

Some South Africans don't even know the true effect on their health of the amount of sugar they consume.

07/12/2017 12:28 SAST | Updated 07/12/2017 12:28 SAST
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Health experts have welcomed the sugary drink tax adopted by the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) on Tuesday -- calling it an important step in the right direction.

The tax, due to be implemented in April next year, will see the price of a 330ml can of Coca Cola increase by about 11 percent.

"This means government is starting to take a real interest in the health of South Africans," dietician Ashley Gibbon told HuffPost.

South Africans are among the top 10 consumers of sugary drinks in the world, and drinking just one sugary drink a day increases the likelihood of being overweight by 27% in adults and 55% in children.

"A large portion of our population is overweight or obese and has an increased risk of developing noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. These NCDs are one of the major contributors to the current strain on South Africa's healthcare system," she added.

Gibbon is of the opinion that although 11 percent might seem like a lot, it's not. "Looking at actual prices, I believe it will not increase by a significant enough amount for the general population to reconsider their drinks choice. A higher tax (initially 20 percent was suggested), might have a greater effect on decreasing the intake of sugary drinks by South Africans."

With that said, the tax might, in some way, help:

1. The fight against obesity

A higher percentage of South Africans are obese today than twenty years ago.

"15-year-olds are presenting with diabetes and heart attacks," said Dr Craig Nossel, the head of Vitality Wellness. Research indicates that if this doesn't change, almost half of the world's adult population will be overweight or obese by 2030.

READ: Stop Normalising Obesity in South Africa

"There is evidence from other countries, such as Mexico, that sugar tax is beneficial in reducing obesity," pointed out Pamela Naidoo, the CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

2. Relieve strain on healthcare system

Obesity is costing South Africa R701-billion a year, and the condition is not sustainable in the private healthcare system, pointed out Dr Noluthando Nematswerani, the head of Discovery's Centre for Clinical Excellence. She noted that premiums are expected to rise as private healthcare continues to spend money on dealing with obesity.

"This (sugar tax) is a clear example of government's attempt at curbing overindulgence while protecting the struggling healthcare system facing increased strain from lifestyle diseases such as cholesterol and diabetes," said John Manyike, the head of Financial Education at Old Mutual.

"The tax, once implemented, will provide the budget that can be allocated to health-promotion initiatives in South Africa," said Naidoo.

3. Save some money

Manyike says economic growth prospects in South Africa are still very minimal. The recent ratings downgrade and multiple petrol hikes will ultimately affect many South Africans' pockets -- leaving them with even less to spend.

"We need to look at ways of cutting down on certain things. It's important that as consumers we focus on things we have control over, such as how we control our money," he said, "and if that means the tax discourages spending and leaves us with a bit more in our pockets, then it's good".

4. See better results at the gym

Processed foods and beverages are the biggest sources of added sugar –– and when consumed in excess, sugar can affect your metabolism. Eliminating some sugar in the form of sugary drinks, then, may help your gym efforts.

READ: 7 Reasons Why You May Not Have Lost Your Belly Fat In 2017

Gibbon notes the opposition to the tax by companies that produce sugary drinks, who insist that when consumed in moderation, these drinks will not contribute to weight gain.

"However, when suggesting that the population use these products in 'moderation', one is assuming that the population, at large, is well educated in terms of nutrition information. South Africa's nutritional knowledge at this stage is unfortunately completely lacking, when you consider the population as a whole. This means that [most people are] unable to consider the dangers of too much sugar in their diets, and [have] no concept of using sugary drinks in moderation," she explained.

This, Gibbon believes, means that the government has got to step in and attempt to enforce moderation.

But she also notes that consumers will be the ones who ultimately have to act –– and the state cannot police that.