Three out of four adult South Africans believe that government is doing the right thing when it makes and enforces policy to discourage the consumption of sugary beverages and junk foods, according to a survey conducted by Genesis Analytics for the Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA).
Public backing for government interventions to curb the national obesity epidemic has increased significantly during the period that Parliament has been deliberating on the tax on sugary beverages, which was proposed by Treasury in its 2017/18 national budget.
The tax on sugary drinks now has the support of seven out of 10 South Africans, provided the revenue collected is invested in programmes to benefit the public. A total of 58% of survey participants approve unconditionally of the sugary drinks tax, while only 29% oppose the tax and the remainder take a neutral position.
Support for the tax has grown in recent months: a comparable survey conducted in October 2016 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,” 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 the Johannesburg-based company, 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.
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,” comments Dr Saul Johnson, Head of Health Practice at Genesis Analytics. “The strong approval for government action to combat obesity and to reduce consumption of unhealthy foods virtually amounts to an expectation that government will provide leadership against an epidemic that threatens millions of South Africans in a very direct way.”
South Africa has the highest proportion of overweight and obese people in sub-Saharan Africa, and diabetes – which is only one of several diseases related to obesity – has become the second most common cause of death in the country.
HEALA is a committed advocate of policy-driven strategies to stem the growing tide of “diseases of lifestyle”, including the introduction of the tax on sugary drinks. In February, government proposed a tax of about 11% on all beverages with added sugar. In Mexico, a 10% tax on sugary drinks was introduced in 2014 and over the course of two years there has been a 9.5% decrease in sales of sugary drinks and an upturn in sales of bottled water.
HEALA is an alliance of organisations and interested South Africans that includes Health-e News Services, Health Promotion and Development Foundation, Khulisa Social Solutions, Rural Health Advocacy Project, Section 27, South African Dental Association (SADA), South African Paediatric Association (SAPA), Society for Endocrinology, Metabolism and Diabetes of South Africa (SEMDSA), Amandla.mobi and Treatment Action Campaign (TAC). For more information, please visit www.heala.org