CityPress - - News - ZINHLE MAPUMULO zinhle.mapumulo@city­

Down­ing just one drink sweet­ened with sugar a day makes chil­dren 55% more likely to be over­weight, a study has shown. That’s why aca­demics and di­eti­cians be­lieve the idea of a sug­ar­sweet­ened bev­er­age tax shouldn’t be dis­missed as the work of a nanny state. The lat­est sugar-fu­elled de­bate has been sparked by a Wits Univer­sity study that was pub­lished this week. It sug­gested a sugar-sweet­ened bev­er­age tax was a smart way to par­tic­u­larly re­duce obe­sity in adults.

The study, which ap­peared in the Plos One med­i­cal jour­nal, con­cluded that if the price of fizzy drinks was in­creased by 20%, there could be a re­duc­tion in obe­sity among men by 3.8% and women by 2.4%.

Lead au­thor Mercy Manyema said it is gov­ern­ment’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­tect its pop­u­la­tion’s health.

“One way of do­ing so is through ‘nudg­ing’ peo­ple to make health­ier and more sus­tain­able choices. A sugar-sweet­ened bev­er­age tax has the po­ten­tial to do this in ad­dress­ing obe­si­tyre­lated dis­eases,” Manyema said.

While the study fo­cused on adults, there’s an­other gen­er­a­tion of sugar fans on its way. City Press asked chil­dren if they’d be up­set if their par­ents stopped buy­ing sug­ary juices and fizzy drinks for them.

Sa­muel Jor­daan (8) said he would be happy be­cause he doesn’t like fizzy drinks. “I only drink ap­ple juice once in a while, and mummy always gives me wa­ter to carry to school.”

His twin brother Ezekiel was less en­thu­si­as­tic. He loves Sprite and isn’t sure how he’d re­act if his mum Han­nerie banned it en­tirely from their home.

“Mummy only gives us wa­ter and we have fizzy drinks once in a while,” he said.

But he has a backup plan. “My granny always gives me Sprite.”

Saf­fiya Güleş, also eight, loves grape-flavoured Fanta and would be “cross” if her mother stopped buy­ing it al­to­gether. “She only buys it for me on spe­cial oc­ca­sions, like when we are eat­ing out. She makes me carry Ceres fruit juice, which is not bad. But I love Fanta more.” If her Fanta sup­ply from her mother dried up, Saf­fiya knows her dad would buy it for her, she said.

Drinks sweet­ened with sugar aren’t the only thing mak­ing South Africans fat – but its im­pact can’t be ig­nored, ac­cord­ing to ex­perts.

Pro­fes­sor Karen Hoff­man from Wits Ru­ral Public Health and Health Tran­si­tions Re­search Unit in the School of Public Health, said foods with a high sugar con­tent are linked to weight gain. “Drink­ing just one sug­ar­sweet­ened bev­er­age a day in­creases the like­li­hood of be­ing over­weight by 27% for adults and 55% for chil­dren,” said Hoff­man.

Aviva Tu­gend­haft, who worked on the Wits study, said: “This is not sur­pris­ing con­sid­er­ing one 330ml serv­ing of a fizzy sweet­ened drink con­tains an av­er­age of eight tea­spoons of sugar and the same amount of sweet­ened fruit juice con­tains an av­er­age of nine tea­spoons of sugar.”

Only the US and the UK have more obese peo­ple than South Africa, and a re­cent sur­vey by the SA Med­i­cal Re­search Coun­cil found that 61% of our pop­u­la­tion is over­weight, obese or mor­bidly obese.

Lynn Oden­daal, a Joburg-based di­eti­cian, says obe­sity is a ma­jor risk fac­tor for heart dis­eases, can­cer and hy­per­ten­sion. “Lo­cal re­search is show­ing us that the rise in non­com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases is plac­ing a huge bur­den on the coun­try’s health sys­tem.

“So any­thing that could help de­crease the num­ber of obese peo­ple should be wel­comed,” said Oden­daal.

Tim Noakes

NOT A FIZZ FAN Sa­muel Jor­daan wouldn’t mind

if his mum stopped buy­ing sug­ary drinks –

he prefers wa­ter and juice

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