Updated 28 February 2017

Will a sugar tax trim the fat off South Africans?

A tax on sugary drinks is a step towards making South Africans healthier, as we are one of the fattest nations in the world, experts say.

A tax on sugary drinks is a step towards making South Africans healthier, according to wellbeing experts. Sugar is blamed for obesity and an increased risk for lifestyle diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. These conditions are a heavy burden on the country's health system.

The sugar industry will engage closely with government on plans to introduce a sugar tax on sugary drinks, the South African Sugar Association told Health24.

Quiz: Am I eating too much sugar?

The proposed tax, to be introduced from 1 April 2017, will be levied on sugar-sweetened beverages such as soft drinks, fruit juices, sports/energy drinks, and vitamin waters, sweetened ice tea, lemonade, cordials and squashes.

"The South African sugar industry promotes a healthy balanced lifestyle and supports the fight against obesity," said South African Sugar Association Executive Director Trix Trikam.

A recent study by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation found that 70% of South African women and 40% of South African men were overweight or obese.

The Hospital Association of South Africa (HASA) also welcomed the introduction on the sugar tax.

Inspiring health consciousness
"We believe that apart from adding much-needed revenue to the National Treasury, these initiatives will greatly assist in ensuring that South Africans reassess their lifestyle and become more health conscious. They deserve all our support," said the body.

Sharing these sentiments, the Principal Officer of Resolution Health Medical Scheme, Mark Arnold, stated that a tax on sugary drinks is a step towards making South Africa a healthier nation.

“With concerns growing over the obesity rate in South Africa, and many associated non-communicable lifestyle diseases on the rise, the notion of a tax on sugary drinks is a welcome development.”

Read: Sugary drinks may increase belly fat

Arnold noted that sugary beverages are calorie-laden and should be enjoyed in moderation and as part of a balanced and healthy lifestyle. "Their frequent use only exacerbates the problem of obesity."

Dr Jacques Snyman, director of product development at Agility Global Health Systems for Africa, explained why regular consumption of sugary drinks is unhealthy.

“It is very easy to gulp down a lot of sugar in a drink very quickly, almost without realising that this accounts for a large proportion of your recommended daily calorie intake."

He said it is important for the general public to be more aware of what they are drinking and make informed decisions based on this information.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi's spokesperson, Joe Maila, told Health24 that a sugar tax is one of the measures that can assist the department in its bid to help reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases on the country.

How much sugar is too much sugar?

The amount of sugar you should consume depends on your health. If you suffer from insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, fatigue or just have belly fat, then any sugar is too much sugar, pointed out registered consulting dietitian Judith Johnson in an article published on Health24.

She explained that insulin resistance is a condition in which the cells of the body become resistant to the hormone insulin.

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions – a high blood sugar level, excess belly fat, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels – that occur together and increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke, noted Johnson.

Also read:

Sugar tax gets sweet support in News24 poll

Why sugar tax would be devastating for South Africans

Don't fall for these 5 sugar myths

What’s SA’s most sugary drink?

10 foods with hidden sugar

Why too much sugar is bad for you


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Dr. May currently works as a fulltime endocrinologist and has been in private practice since 2004. He has a variety of interests, predominantly obesity and diabetes, but also sees patients with osteoporosis, thyroid disorders, men's health disorders, pituitary and adrenal disorders, polycystic ovaries, and disorders of growth. He is a leading member of several obesity and diabetes societies and runs a trial centre for new drugs.

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