Sugar Tax South Africa

The 2017 sugar tax: More than just a budgetary decision

The national health department will be implementing SA’s sugar tax as of 2017 and, while the decision to tax sugar-laden products was made by Treasury, it’s about much more than just money.

Sugar Tax South Africa

The National Health Department has been charged with rolling out South Africa’s sugar tax in 2017 and with regards to our overall health, it might be worth looking at our current sugar intake and the effect it’s having on us.

The outcome of taxing sugar sweetened beverages (SSB) is aimed at reducing the growing rate of lifestyle diseases, as well as oral and dental problems within South Africa.

“There is good reason to believe from both local experience with tobacco and alcohol and international experiences with sugar (as well as tobacco and alcohol) that taxes are an excellent mediator of consumer behaviour,” the national department of health (NDoH) said in a statement.

According to regulations set out by the World Health Organisation (WHO), adults and children should aim to reduce their sugar intake to less than 10% of their total energy consumption; if we brought this down to below 5% (about six teaspoons of sugar per day), we’d start seeing added health benefits… the best way for governments to motivate these changes through added tax.

“The Commission on Childhood obesity set up by the WHO Director-General recommended, inter alia, that taxes on SSBs would be an important mechanism to reduce childhood obesity. It is important to note that one 330ml of Coca-Cola, for example, has around 8 teaspoons of sugar and therefore just one cold-drink would take the full recommended sugar intake a day – and many other foods and the sauces added to food also contain sugar, not to mention discretionary intake,” the NDoH said.

“While the National Department of Health (NDoH) was not responsible for introducing the tax, this intervention was noted as a “best buy” in the Strategic Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases 2013-17 as well as in the Strategy for the Prevention and Control of Obesity. “

Research by Wits University’s PRICELESS shows that a 20% SSB tax has the potential to reduce sugar intake by 3.8% in men and 2.4% in women or a decrease in obese people by 220 000 – mostly in the first 3 years.

“On the other hand without a tax soft drinks are projected to grow by 2.4% per year, predominantly amongst poorer people and this could lead to a 16% increase in obesity by 2017 or which 20% would be due to SSBs.”

Further bolstering its case for the sugar tax, the NDoH looks at the impact sugar-related lifestyle diseases has on economic performance over time, as well as dental and oral hygiene.

“While the NDoH has not done specific calculations on costs to the economy, we have noted the global World Health Organisation estimates that high BMIs (Body Mass Index) drive between 2% and 7% of global healthcare spending with up to 20% of all health care spending attributable to obesity, through related diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

We do not have figures for the impacts of obesity on the economy as a whole but these would be substantial in terms of absenteeism due to obesity related illness and attendance at health facilities, lethargy at work and other impacts.

A study conducted by the United States Chamber of Commerce found the total economic impact due to absenteeism, presenteeism (people who are at work but not working at full capacity due to illness) and early retirement in South Africa to be 6.8% of the GDP. Obesity and its associated disorders I one of the main reasons for this high figure.

Sugar also has negative impact on dental health and the related costs. Dental diseases, mainly linked to sugar intake, are the most prevalent NCDs globally causing pain, anxiety, functional limitation (including poor school and work attendance) and social handicap through tooth loss. While we do not have exact costs in South Africa the treatment of dental diseases is expensive, consuming 5–10% of health-care budgets in industrialised countries. A 2002 survey in SA showed that 60 percent of children of 6 years of age; 37 percent of 12 year old and  50 percent of 15 year olds have dental caries and gum diseases; 86 percent  of 15 year olds have unhealthy gums.”