This is the outcome of a survey conducted during July, which found that public backing for government interventions to curb the national obesity epidemic has increased significantly. This shift is believed to have happened during parliament’s deliberations on the tax on sugary beverages, proposed by Treasury in the 2017/18 national budget.
The sugary drinks tax now has the support of seven out of 10 South Africans, if the revenue collected is invested in programmes to benefit the public. A total of 58% of survey participants approved of the new tax unconditionally, while only 29% opposed it and the remaining respondents being neutral.
Support for the tax has grown in recent months. A comparable survey conducted last October found that 42% of respondents favoured a sugary drinks tax.
“The debate on the proposed tax on sugary drinks has certainly raised public awareness of the sheer sugar-load that these drinks carry and their harmful impact on health,” said Tracey Malawana, coordinator of the Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA), a network of health organisations that commissioned the opinion survey.
“Most people would clearly welcome government using its muscle in a protective way to reduce sales of sugary drinks. They have totally got the idea that this is a well-intentioned tax that could improve the health of the nation.”
The survey was conducted for HEALA by Johannesburg-based Genesis Analytics, in conjunction with the international consultancy, Vital Strategies. The survey sample consisted of 1 000 respondents, representative of the adult population in the metropolitan areas of Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape.
There was strong approval for government action to combat obesity and to reduce consumption of unhealthy foods, and this meant people were expecting government to lead the way in the fight against diabetes.
The survey also found that about six out of 10 people are “very concerned” or “extremely concerned” about the harm caused by sugary drinks to their health and the health of children. Nearly nine out of 10 respondents admitted thinking now and then about the health impact of sugary drinks.
“It is striking that the majority of people felt their own health was at risk due to drinking sugar-laden drinks. This issue is something personal – it’s not someone else’s problem,” said Dr Saul Johnson, head of Health Practice at Genesis Analytics.
He said there was strong approval for government action to combat obesity and to reduce consumption of unhealthy foods, and this meant people were expecting government to lead the way in the fight against diabetes.
South Africa has the highest proportion of overweight and obese people in sub-Saharan Africa, and diabetes – one of several diseases related to obesity – has become the second most common cause of death in the country.
HEALA is advocating for policy-driven strategies to stem the growing tide of lifestyle diseases, including the introduction of the tax on sugary drinks. In February, government proposed a tax of about 11% on all beverages with added sugar.
Mexico introduced a 10% tax on sugary drinks in 2014 and saw a 9.5% decrease in sales of sugary drinks and an upturn in sales of bottled water within two years. – Health-e News