As National Treasury plans a new “fat tax” on sugary drinks to combat an obesity epidemic, sweet-toothed consumers say its chances of making them cut down on the consumption of their favourite drinks are slim.
Ranked as one of the most obese nations on the continent, South Africa is joining a growing list of countries around the world, such as Britain and Mexico, trying to put a cap on fizzy drinks. But even health experts, who welcome the proposed levy, don’t believe the tax will single-handedly discourage South Africans from popping open bottles of sugar-packed soda and sweetened juices.
The levy, announced by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan in his budget in February, will come into effect in April next year. It is aimed not only at saving people from their own unhealthy appetites, but at offsetting the economic costs of diseases related to obesity.
In Zandspruit, west of Johannesburg, 30-year-old insurance broker Thulani Masango scoffed at the levy. “We know sugar causes diabetes and obesity, but … we cannot survive without sugar,” said Masango, as he strolled down a dusty street.
“As we speak, the price of meat has gone up, but we continue braaing. Alcohol goes up almost every year, we still drink. “It’s the same with sugar. It’s something that is uncontrollable,” said Masango.
A Zandspruit supermarket supervisor and mother of two, Anastacia Tshabalala, 53, agrees. “Sugar is sugar! We are going to take it no matter what. Even if the price goes up, we have to take sugar every day – you can’t live without it,” she said.
South African endocrinologist Professor Tess van der Merwe, who says in SA half of adult women and a third of adult men are “overweight”, is also sceptical. “These are epidemic proportions,” she said, adding that about 15% of South Africans are in the “morbidly obese category” – more than 45 kg overweight.
“I don’t believe that it will curb the epidemic unless we have a definitive preventative and treatment strategy in place – like tax didn’t curb alcohol use,” she said.
Obesity rates are, meanwhile, rising sharply among African children. A World Health Organisation (WHO) study released in January showed that childhood obesity has become an “exploding nightmare” in the developing world, including Africa.
The number of overweight or obese children under five nearly doubled from 1990 to 2014, from 5.4 million to 10.3 million.
“People need to realise that there are more people dying from obesity related illnesses than from any other disease in the world,” said Van der Merwe.
Gordhan has yet to reveal the proposed taxation rates, but a Plos-One study published in 2014 projects that a 20% tax on sugary drinks will reduce obesity in South Africa by between 2.4% and 3.8% for females and males respectively.
Manufacturers of sugar-sweetened drinks believe the tax could lead to job losses
source: The Citizen