Cape Town - The proposed sugar tax will only be effective if it is a part of a wider approach to address obesity, according to researchers from the University of the Western Cape School of Public Health (SOPH-UWC).

The researchers have supported the proposed sugar tax and made a submission to the Treasury, recommending a number of things including strengthening national efforts to address non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and using revenue from sugary drinks to promote health.

Obesity is a contributing factor to the global rise in NCDs and it is expected these diseases will worsen inequalities in longevity and quality of life.

Emeritus professor at SOPH-UWC, David Sanders, said obesity rates had risen in recent years in South Africa and currently more than 45 percent of men and women above the age of 35 were either overweight or obese.

“One of the leading behavioural risk factors is an unhealthy diet that includes high levels of sugar consumption,” said Sanders.

In their submission, SOPH-UWC highlighted poor diets now generated more disease than lack of physical activity, alcohol consumption and smoking, combined.

“This change, dubbed the nutrition transition, is characterised by a shift from traditional diets towards more energy-dense, processed foods, and more foods of animal origin and more added sugar, salt and fat. This new diet, commonly known as the Western diet, is primarily made up of cheap, highly palatable, heavily promoted, energy-dense and nutrient-poor foods.”

Sanders added the transition was evident in South Africa, where a steady increase in the per capita food supply of sugar, fat, protein, salt and total calories had been observed.

“Unhealthy food environments foster unhealthy diets, contributing to increasing levels of chronic diseases, over and above individual factors such as knowledge, attitudes, and behaviours.

“This has especially been found to be true for communities predominantly made up of low-income, low socio-economic status residents, such as many found in South Africa.”

Sanders said sugar taxes had been successfully implemented in other countries like Mexico, France and Hungary and have resulted in the reduction of obesity and related diseases.

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CAPE ARGUS