As the country - and world, buckles under non-communicable diseases and seeks to find ways to reduce them, obesity stands out as one of those which experts have said was manageable.
Obesity in the country is said to be at all time high, with predictions that by 2030 half of the female population will be obese.
Described as the abnormal, or excessive fat accumulation, obesity is usually caused by the consumption of more calories than the body can use, which presents a health risk.
Obese people are at increased risk for many serious diseases and health conditions, among them all causes of death, high blood pressure, or hypertension, high and low cholesterol levels, the deadly type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
Obese people also stand the risk of having a stroke, developing gallbladder disease, cancer and osteoarthritis; and they are known to have sleep apnea and breathing problems; besides which, a general low quality of life.
In 2018, the government, after extensive consultations and in response to a recommendation of the World Health Organisation, introduced a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in an attempt to reduce citizens’ sugar intake and to curb obesity in the country.
But dieticians and other stakeholders have come out to say the tax on sugary products alone was not enough to combat obesity.
“There is a need for consumer education, controlled marketing of sugary drinks, and effective food labelling,” said Stellenbosch University this week.
“The jury is still out on whether this sugar tax alone will be enough to combat obesity, which is regarded as one of the risk factors for non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes. Among the unconvinced are registered dietitians and key industry role-players,” a study by researchers from the Division of Human Nutrition and the Centre for Statistical Consultation at Stellenbosch University say.
This is after researchers surveyed dietitians and key industry role-players on their awareness and opinions regarding consumer activity.
In findings of their study, published in the South African Journal of Clinical Nutrition, it was indicated that these consulted experts held the perception that it was not adequate to have a sustainable impact on lowering non-communicable diseases, chief among them obesity.
“Dietitians and key industry role-players were positive about tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, known as the Health Promotion Levy, although the majority agreed that the implementation of a sugar tax alone will not make a difference because multiple factors contribute to these diseases and obesity.
“They believed that the levy the of 11% was too little to have an impact on the purchasing behaviour of consumers,” the study said, adding that dietitians did report a perceived decrease in the daily purchasing of sugar-sweetened beverages by their clients in favour of mainly sugar-free beverages and water since the implementation of the levy.“
However, some dietitians told researchers they were concerned that sugar-sweetened beverages were substituted with other sugar-containing food items, and this, the researchers found, corresponded with other studies showing that nutrition interventions targeting specific foods or beverages may lead to adverse compensatory behaviour such as increased consumption of alternative but similarly unhealthy foods and beverages.
“Consumer lack of knowledge, as well as their habitual purchasing of sugary drinks were regarded as key barriers to the successful implementation of the levy.”
Both dieticians and role players emphasised the importance of educating consumers about the sugar tax legislation if the country was to be saved from becoming a nation of obese women, men and children, the study recommended.