State legislates diet for a clean bill of health
Department of energy’s move to raise cost of sugar-sweetened beverages by 20% is designed to reduce intake and so prevent and control non-communicable diseases and obesity, write Hettie Carina Schönfeldt, Beulah Pretorius and Nicolette Hall
The planned sugar tax, which is scheduled to take effect on April 1 2017, is designed to reduce sugar intake from sugar-sweetened beverages by upping the price with a 20% fiscal tax.
Health authorities’ plan to issue a sugar tax must not be seen in isolation. It is part of the department of health’s strategic plans to prevent and control non-communicable disease and obesity.
These strategies have set the ambitious target of reducing obesity by 10% by 2020. And they include salt reduction legislation, trans-fat regulations, and stricter label and advertising regulations.
It is not unusual for populations that modernise as a result of socioeconomic development to have changes in their dietary patterns.
But the move from traditional foods to more processed and convenience foods is linked to weight gain and an increased risk of developing diet-related non-communicable diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.
Non-communicable diseases have become the leading causes of death in low- and middle-income countries. South Africa is no exception. It has the highest rates of overweight and obese adults in Africa.
In its second National Burden of Disease Study, South Africa’s Medical Research Council tracked mortality levels and trends for non-communicable diseases between 1997 and 2012. It found that by 2010 non-communicable diseases accounted for 39% of all fatalities, putting them on par with the number of people dying from HIV/Aids and tuberculosis combined. The World Health Organisation predicts that by 2020 these diseases will account for 80% of the global burden of disease.
The impact of non-communicable diseases has a significant impact on economic development. The accumulated loss to South Africa’s gross domestic product between 2006 and 2015 from diabetes, stroke and heart disease was estimated at $1.88 billion.
In addition, obesity has also risen at an exponential rate. The number of overweight and obese children in South Africa has increased from 1.4% in 1994 to more than 15% in 2004. South Africa has been able to win the battle against malnutrition. While there has been a rise in the number of overweight and obese people, many are still undernourished because their food choices deprive their bodies of essential nutrients.
The changes in the country’s dietary patterns over time have included: More foods rich in total and saturated fats, Less legumes and vegetables; More energy-dense, micronutrient-poor snack foods, convenience foods, vegetable oils; and
More sweetened products and beverages. Adding salt, sugar, fats and oils during food preparation has also increased. Although studies show that people are eating more fruit and meat than 10 years ago, people are still not consuming enough variety of foods to meet all the recommended macro and micro nutrients for optimal health and wellbeing.
As the world continues to win battles against HIV/Aids and other communicable diseases, the national burden of disease attributed to non-communicable diseases is expected to intensify. In the next 10 years it is estimated that the global non-communicable disease burden will increase by 17%. In Africa, this figure will be closer to 27%.
Globally, governments are being forced to pay more attention and intensify their actions against these dietrelated diseases. As a member state to the UN, South Africa has signed various global resolutions and commitments on food and nutrition.
By implementing the sugar tax, South Africa is simply heeding its international commitments. Schönfeldt is associate professor of human nutrition at the Institute of Food, Nutrition and Wellbeing, Pretorius is reseacher in human nutrition and food composition and Hall is researcher & post-doc in human nutrition at the University of Pretoria. The article first appeared in the