Rising obesity rates in South African youth are crippling their ability to live healthy lives and fully enjoy their youth as more and more develop life-threatening chronic diseases like Type II diabetes.
A recent research report published in the New England Medical Journal (NEMJ) reveals that 1.6 million South African children are considered obese in addition to 10 million adults. South Africa has the highest obesity rates for women in Africa. The study, which measured overweight and obesity trends between 1990 and 2015 in close to 200 countries worldwide, found that 107 million children are living with obesity globally. While this figure is lower than that which was seen among adults (603 million), children and teenagers are gaining weight at a much faster rate.
A significant proportion of many children’s daily calorie intake is sugary drinks like sodas and sweetened fruits juices. Many parents stock the beverages during regular grocery shopping trips to put them in their kids’ school lunch bags and to have with dinner meals at the end of each day.
The escalating weight of youth puts them at greater risk of developing other non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like those related to the cardiovascular and renal system as well as several cancers later in life. These complicated, life-altering and costly health issues require quick and long-lasting interventions.
“Kids need protection from these toxic products more than anybody else and we call on our leadership to endorse a strong tax because we cannot afford to wait as our children get sicker and their lives get shorter,” says HEALA coordinator Ms Tracey Malawana.
According to PRICELESS SA, a 20 percent sugary drinks tax is needed to facilitate much-needed daily dietary adjustments to reduce sugar consumption as it has been modelled to result in 220 000 fewer obese South Africans. Proof that this policy lever can be effective has also been established in a study conducted among households of lower socio-economic status in Mexico which showed a decline in sugary drinks consumption two years after a tax was implemented.
Earlier this year, the Ministry of Finance announced the introduction of an 11 percent sugary drinks tax and since then the matter has been debated at various parliamentary hearings.
“A sugary drinks tax, combined with initiatives to promote healthier lifestyles by changing how we shop and eat, is our best shot at keeping our youth free of disease so they can contribute productively to society in their lifetime,” concludes Ms Malawana.
General childhood obesity stats:
If obesity levels continue to increase at the current rate, almost four million South African children will be overweight or obese by 2025. By then, over a million of these children will start to suffer from related diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure. By 2025 as many as:
• 213 000 will have impaired glucose tolerance (a pre-cursor to type-2 diabetes)
• 68 000 will have to type-2 diabetes
• 460 000 will have high blood pressure
• 637 000 will have first-stage fatty liver disease