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In the 2016 Budget Speech, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan announced that South African consumers will be levied with sugar tax from 1 April 2017 in an effort to curb growing obesity rates among citizens. Countries such as France, Mexico and several states in the United States have already introduced sugar tax and it is hoped to have a big impact on how South Africans consume sugar.
According to Dr Dominique Stott, Executive: Medical Standards and Services at PPS, any effort by our Government to reduce obesity levels in the country, especially among children, should be applauded. “Although there is no definite solution to solve this worldwide problem, governments are identifying measures such as sugar tax as a good starting point.”
The proceeds of this tax should ideally be spent on further measures and programmes aimed at reducing obesity levels in the country, she says. “Money should be spent on health education and awareness programmes to inform consumers about how they can reduce their daily intake of sugar, otherwise sugar tax will simply be one more tax burden for South Africans.”
She points to research done by Wits University in 2014 which revealed that a suggested 20% tax on sweetened sugar beverages could reduce obesity in 220 000 adults. “The tax on sweetened sugar beverages will include products like still and carbonated soft drinks, fruit juices, sports and energy drinks, sweetened ice teas, lemonade, cordials and squashes.”
Dr Stott says that some of these sugary beverages do not contain any nutrients and only add kilojoules to one’s diet. “Many consumers are not aware of the potential health risks that are associated with excessive sugar consumption and how a reduced intake of sugar can improve their lifestyle. It is vital that people educate themselves on how they can reduce the amount of sugar included in their diet.”
She says sugar is also hidden in various products and foods that one would not consider to be sugary, which is why it is important that consumers learn how to read food labels carefully to identify products that contain high sugar levels. “A large portion of the sugar that people consume is disguised in processed foods which would not normally be classified as sweet. For example, one tablespoon of tomato sauce contains almost 4g of sugar.”
“One of the biggest consequences of excessive sugar consumption is the increased risk of obesity and diabetes. A high-sugar diet causes the body to store the surplus glucose as glycogen but once the body has enough glycogen in its system, the glycogen turns into fat. Many sugary drinks also contain excessive amounts of fructose, which has been reported to cause obesity as high amounts of fructose can lead to leptin resistance, a chemical which tells the body when it has consumed enough food. Eating excessive amounts of sugar can also cause insulin resistance,” explains Dr Stott.
Obese and diabetic parents are also more likely to have obese and overweight children she says. “This could be due to children learning unhealthy eating habits from their parents and therefore not making good food choices. Health education in schools could play a vital role in urging children to eat better.”
Alcohol has always been considered the liver’s worst enemy, but lately it has been reported that sugar is also not good for the liver. Diets comprising of excessive sugar can cause a fatty build-up on the liver which can lead to liver inflammation and, in severe cases, the development of scar tissue on the liver.
Dr Stott provides some basic tips for consumers to attempt to limit their daily sugar intake;
“South African consumers need to educate themselves around the negative consequences associated with excessive sugar consumption in an effort to improve their overall lifestyle and reduce their risk of getting obese or diabetic. Consumers can implement simple steps in their life to be mindful about the foods they consume and in turn drastically reduce their daily sugar intake,” concludes Dr Stott.