Rise in sugar tax means better health

UCT Associate Professor Tolullah Oni, believes the sugar tax will have a great impact in South Africa.

With the price of sugar set to rocket as the sugar tax hits on Saturday April 1, parliamentarians are still debating whether it’s needed.

However, UCT associate professor Tolullah Oni, believes the move is a step in the right direction, at least as far as the country’s health is concerned.

The UCT School of Public Health and Family Medicine made a submission to Parliament in 2016, which was championed by Professor Oni, stating that the tax would make a serious dent in SA’s non-communicable disease (NCD) rates if public health interventions supported the initiative with other health provisions.

Professor Oni said that NCDs, which include diabetes and heart diseases, were caused by poor diet and should be a priority, because a poor diet caused more disease than physical inactivity, alcohol and smoking combined.

Professor Oni’s argument is that the poor are most vulnerable to NCDs because it’s harder for them to access that sort of healthy food and environments that promote good health.

The parliamentary submission by the UCT School of Public Health and Family Medicine noted that healthy foods were more expensive than less healthy foods.

Professor Oni and the UCT School of Public Health and Family believe the tax shouldn’t be seen in isolation. Instead, they say, it’s the whole food environment that needs fixing to make sure everyone can eat healthy food.

Their submission warned that people from low-income households were at greater risk of gaining weight due to drinking sugary drinks and that South African children between nine and 10 years old drank an average of 254 Coca-Cola products a year while the global average was 89.

The submission said the state should take the lead in ensuring access to clean drinking water, including water fountains and taps; subsidising healthy foods, including minimally processed foods; investing in South African agriculture and improving access to open green spaces to promote physical activity.

Professor Oni also stated that using taxes to address public health issues, such as obesity, had been successful in other countries such as Mexico where a sugar tax had reduced soft drink
consumption, especially among the poor. “With many more South Africans living on less than $1.90 a day (approximately R25), and with SA’s much higher Gini coefficient, which indicates great inequality, it’s possible that a sugar tax’s effect might be even more tangible here,” he said.

“There is also evidence showing that raising the price of sugary drinks in Brazil was linked to reduced consumption among the poor, too.

“Six US studies showed that higher prices could lead to lower body mass indexes (BMIs) and less prevalent cases of obesity and being overweight.”

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