The health promotion levy, popularly known as the sugar tax, that comes into effect on April 1 in South Africa may have a small impact, if any – as regulation can only go so far in influencing a change in behaviour.
That's the view of Dr Marion Morkel, chief medical officer at Sanlam.
Local studies have found that South African teens consume more than three times the recommended sugar allowance per week, and drink more than one fizzy drink a day. A daily soft drink increases the risk of being overweight in children by 55 percent.
"Regulation can only go so far; ultimately, our children mimic our actions. Change in behaviour will therefore not be driven by regulation, but by what we do as parents. We really do have some of the worst obesity statistics in the world, and the only way to change this in children especially, is to lead by example," Morkel said.
She also believes it shouldn't be up to external authorities alone to educate young people on making healthy choices. Making good choices in terms of cutting back on sugar should be a family responsibility, as there are positive lifestyle and health advantages for everyone.
And in case you weren't aware, here are some of the biggest benefits of cutting down on sugar:
- Combat diabetes
In 2017, it was estimated that close to 2.3-million South Africa adults had diabetes, with an incidence rate of 7.5 percent. Insulin is a hormone produced by the body to transport sugar from the blood to the cells, where the sugar is then used for energy or stored for later use. A high-sugar diet means insulin no longer works as effectively (due to overuse) and the sugar accumulates, eventually resulting in diabetes.
Change in behaviour will not be driven by regulation, but by what we do as parents.
- Fight obesity
An unhealthy diet of fast foods has an excessively high sugar content coupled with a high fat content — a diet common in a number of South African households. Two-thirds of women and a third of men are overweight or obese in South Africa, while the number of children who are overweight and obese is climbing rapidly – one in four pre-schoolers is overweight or obese.
- Could save you money
The sugar tax could see you pay 11 percent more for a can of cold drink. If you buy a fizzy drink for R14 every day, you're spending a total of R5,110 per year.
Less sugar could also mean reduced insurance premiums. Insurers assess body mass index (BMI), blood glucose and cholesterol levels to determine a policyholder's risk. Healthier clients tend to enjoy lower premiums than those who show an increased risk through these indicators.
- Could bring healthier and alternative products to the market
If consumers demand healthier products and regulation backs this up, the only way to ensure longevity and relevance will be for manufacturers to change their offerings to comply with the market and policy shift. This could ensure that products focus on offering reduced-sugar alternatives.