File picture: Nokuthula Mbatha

Cape Town - The Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) has welcomed a call by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for countries to impose a tax of 20 percent on sugar-sweetened beverages as a way to fight non-communicable diseases like obesity and diabetes.

This week, the WHO resoundingly said taxing sugary drinks can lower consumption and reduce obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay.

According to a new WHO report, fiscal policies that lead to at least a 20 percent increase in the retail price of sugary drinks would result in proportional reductions in consumption of such products.

The government proposes to introduce the tax by April 1 to help reduce excessive sugar intake. “This move once more proves that South Africa is on the right path in terms of fighting diseases.

“It does, however, not seem to have gone down well with retailers, who sell these beverages on mere fears that their profit margins will go down,” said Denosa spokesperson Sibongiseni Delihlazo.

The growth of the country is highly dependent on the health of the roleplayers of its economy - the working people, most of whom get affected by non-communicable diseases, Delihlazo said.

“When customers fall victim to obesity and diabetes as a result of excessively sweet beverages, they don’t become the responsibility of the retail companies that sell these beverages but become permanent patients to nurses and... governments who have to procure and provide chronic medication for their chronic non-communicable diseases.

“Outpatient departments in our health facilities are increasingly overflowing with patients who are of working age, who collect chronic medication on a frequent basis.”

While imposing tax on sugar-sweetened beverages has proven to decrease obesity, regular exercises equally keep obesity, diabetes and other lifestyle-related non-communicable diseases at bay, he added.

According to the WHO’s department for the prevention of NCDs director, Douglas Bettcher, the consumption of free sugars, including products like sugary drinks, is a major factor in the global increase of people suffering from obesity and diabetes.

“If governments tax products like sugary drinks, they can reduce suffering and save lives. They can also cut health-care costs and increase revenues to invest in health services.”

In 2014, more than one in three adults worldwide 18 years and older were overweight.

Worldwide prevalence of obesity has also more than doubled between 1980 and 2014, with 11 percent of men and 15 percent of women classified as obese.

WHO department of nutrition for health and development director Francesco Branca said: “Nutritionally people don’t need any sugar in their diet. WHO recommends that if people do consume free sugars, they keep their intake below 10 percent of their total energy needs, and reduce it to less than 5 percent for additional health benefits. This is equivalent to less than a single serving (at least 250ml) of commonly consumed sugary drinks per day.

The Beverages Association of South Africa has come out strongly against the tax, saying that the non-alcoholic beverage industry contributes R60 billion to South Africa’s GDP and supports about 294 000 jobs.