Updated 29 April 2016

Sugar tax could save South Africa billions in diabetes costs

Calculations by University of Witwatersrand researchers suggest that a 20 percent tax on sweetened beverages could save South Africa R10 billion over the next 20 years in costs related to type 2 diabetes.

South Africa’s recently announced tax on sugar-sweetened beverages could save South Africa billions if implemented over the next 20 years, according to University of Witwatersrand research released today.

A 'soda tax'

In February, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan proposed introducing a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, or what in some countries has been dubbed a “soda tax” although the tax could also apply to juice and sweetened teas.

New mathematical modelling by University of Witwatersrand researchers suggests that a 20 percent “soda tax” could save the country R10 billion over the next 20 years in costs related to treating rising cases of type 2 diabetes largely caused by poor diet and rising obesity rates.

Read: Type 2 diabetes and diet

Already the third underlying cause of natural death, diabetes is expected to cost South Africa as much as R2 billion per year by the year 2030 in costs such as hospitalisations and medication, according to a 2010 study

Conducted by Wits’ Priority Cost Effective Lessons for System Strengthening South Africa (PRICELESS SA) unit, additional modelling presented today also found that a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages could also prevent obesity in about 280,000 young adults

Prevention rather than treatment

In a 2012 Coca-Cola survey, South Africa was among the top ten consumers per capita of the beverage giant’s products. Mexico ranked highest consumer of Coca-Cola products.

Read: Coca-Cola blames lack of exercise for 'obesity tsunami'

To curb soda consumption, Mexico instituted a sugary beverages tax in 2014 and within a year, there had been a 12 percent reduction in the purchase of sugar-sweetened beverages.

Hamish Van Wyk is education facilitator at Johannesburg’s Centre for Diabetes and Endocrinology.  According to Van Wyk, South Africa must begin to do more to prevent rather than simply treat diabetes.

 “We can’t do more treating, we need to do prevention,” he said. 

Read more:

Will a sugar tax solve SA's obesity problem?

Is a sugar tax really on the cards for SA?

Why sugar tax would be devastating for South Africans



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