HEALA calls for 20% tax on sugary drinks

The alliance has been encouraged by public support on proposals for an increase in the Health Promotion Levy (HPL)

Gathered outside number 40 Church Street in Tshwane, activists and people living with non-communicable diseases (NCDs) have submitted a memorandum to Treasury, calling for an increase on the health promotion levy.

The levy, also known as the sugary drinks tax, is currently 11% and the Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA) is demanding that it be increased by an additional 9% which will put the levy at 20%.

According to the organisation, the increase in the levy by April 1 will assist in reducing the high number of NCDs such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension and stroke, which are currently regarded as a burden to the health system.

Support from citizens 

Nosipho Msiza (32) was diagnosed with hypertension almost five years ago and is one of the people who support the proposal to increase the levy.

“My cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels were ridiculously high when I went to the clinic for a screening. And it was a tough wake-up call for [me] especially, because when you come from a family of obese people, you don’t see anything wrong with it.”

She says that the idea of having to be on medication for the rest of her life encouraged her to make a lifestyle change and shed some weight.

“I used to weigh 115kg and I have lost some weight now. I also realised that it is possible to lose weight and be healthy at the same time. I now educate people in my community about eating healthy and the increase in the levy will be good for everyone.”

Msiza also believes that government should increase the promotion of healthy food options and to also ensure that healthy food is affordable.

One step to tackling NCDs 

Mandla Magaza, an activist for the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) Tembisa branch, says that the increase will cement government’s commitment to addressing NCDs.

“For us, it is difficult because during clinic hours, we do health talks and it sometimes becomes a challenge to encourage healthy eating when unhealthy foods such as sugary drinks are not taxed as they should be, and are readily available. The tax increase would make it easy for us to spread the message on healthy eating as we would have government’s full support when it comes to discouraging people from consuming sugary drinks.”

While delivering the memorandum, HEALA informed representatives from Treasury about public support shown in a petition on Amandla.mobi, which received over 11 000 signatures in support of expanding sugary drinks tax to fruit juices.

“We call Minister Tito Mboweni to commit to this in the upcoming Budget Policy Statement. Unlike the VAT hike which we were not consulted on, a sugary drinks tax has public support and means healthier people and more funding for health,” says HEALA programme manager, Lawrence Mbalati.

Treasury applauds HEALA 

Treasury Chief of Staff Marlon Geswint received the memorandum on behalf of the minister and gave assurance that he would share the document with relevant role-players.

“There has been previous engagement on this so rest assured that this will be shared with the relevant authorities. As you, we look forward to seeing how the minister is going to respond to it,” he says.

Geswit also commended HEALA on their activism in promoting healthy living. “We must commend you that you are busy with a really good initiative. And we want to wish you everything of the best as you continue to educate the general public and move forward in your cause. So on behalf of the ministry, I accept the memorandum.”

Following a study done by PRICELESS (Priority Cost Effective Lessons for System Strengthening) which found that the HPL resulted in higher prices for sugary drinks, and untaxed healthier beverages like water did not increase in price.

“This is a first indication that the tax could motivate consumers to pick healthier options that are not taxed rather than taxed sugary drinks, which is very encouraging,” adds Mbalati.

The Minister of Finance’s budget speech, which will held at the end February, is expected to yield positive news for HEALA.

“We are happy that somebody from Treasury accepted our memorandum so we are now hoping that they will consider our recommendations and we will be looking at the upcoming budget speech that will be taking place at the end of this month to see if our call of the increase of the sugary drinks tax from 11% to 20% and not only that but to also further include 100% fruit juices has been taken seriously or not,” says Mary-Jane Matsolo, campaign and advocacy coordinator for HEALA.

Matsolo adds that they also hope to see government not giving in to pressure from unhealthy food and beverage manufacturers, but to put the health of South Africans into consideration especially when it comes to fighting to reduce the burden the health system faces because of the rising numbers of people who need treatment for NCDs. – Health-e News

Health-e News is a media partner of the Healthy Living Alliance.

Sparking a fresh fruit revival in the heart of Venda

Tshakhuma Fruit Market attracts tourists from all over South Africa, but locals consumption of the market’s offering of fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts is dwindling, according to fruit vendors.

“We are fortunate as people of Venda [Vhembe] to have so many fruits at our disposal, but I don’t think we value all these fruits enough. Some even go a week without eating any fruit, despite having all these quality fruits around us,” said Vhulahani Masia, a fruit vendor at Tshakhuma Fruit Market.

Tshakhuma Fruit Market, situated just outside Thohoyandou in the Vhembe District, is the only 24-hour fresh produce market in Vhembe, and sells bananas, mangoes, litchis, tree nuts, pecan nuts, nectarines, avocados and more. The market was established over two decades ago, and to this day, the majority of produce is locally grown.

Masia, who has sold bananas, avocados, paw-paws and litchis at the market since 1996, believes there is general decline in sales at the fruit market. According to her, decrease in interest and consumption of fruit is pronounced in the younger generation.

“I have been selling fruits at this market since 1996 and I can say that over the years there has been a decline in the number of local people who purchase fruits here. It’s something we should worry about, as it might mean that people no longer see the importance of fruits,” she says.

She added: “Something should be done urgently to educate local people about the importance of eating fruit before it’s too late. People who usually come here for fruits are mainly tourists from far away, and they often say that they wished they stayed this side [Venda], so they can have these fruits daily.”

Fresh fruit and vegetable reduce NCD risk

Eating fruits on a regular basis has various health benefits, as people who eat more fruits and vegetables are at a reduced risk of developing some chronic diseases. Per World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, fruits and vegetables are important components of a healthy diet, while reduced fruit and vegetable consumption is linked to poor health and increased risk of contracting noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, high blood pressure and more.

“Including fruits and vegetables as part of the daily diet may reduce the risk of some NCDs, including cardiovascular diseases and certain types of cancer,” says WHO.

According to a 2019 study published in Nature, into body mass indexes (BMI) across the world, obesity rates in rural populations are on the rise. The dietary shift from traditional food that includes natural fruits and vegetables, to highly processed food, is one of the risk factors mentioned in the study.

Last year, Limpopo Department of Health introduced a new standardised eight-day cycle menu which includes fruits and vegetables at all its hospitals to promote healthy lifestyle and to fight obesity.

‘Our children don’t like eating fruits’

Although the region has easily available fresh produce, as the market is a testament to, fruit vendors feel that education around healthy diet is lacking.

“I think we still need more education on the importance of eating healthy meals, which includes a lot of vegetables, and a fruit on the side at all times. Our children don’t like eating fruits, but I think we’re to blame as parents because we don’t instill the importance of eating fruits and vegetables when they are still toddlers,” says Mavis Mudzanani, another vendor at the Tshakhuma Fruit Market.

“The worst part is that we only start valuing the importance of eating healthy when we are sick and by that time, the damage has already been done. We should start utilising the fruits and vegetables at our disposal to promote healthy eating habits, especially among our children,” she adds.

Nurse Phumudzo Themeli says that a child’s lunchbox is the perfect place to start with healthy eating practices.

“Children should be taught the importance of eating fruits and vegetables, and it should start with their lunchbox. Eating fruits and vegetables has a lot of health benefits such as strengthening the immune system which in turn helps the body fight off various diseases such as most NCDs such as heart diseases, strokes, diabetes, and high blood pressure.” – Health-e News.

Hawkers booted out of local school

For years, schools in Ikageng have allowed hawkers to sell food to learners inside school premises, but one primary school has decided to bar them.

Sarah Nceba has been selling her bunny chow, chicken feet and vetkoeks (fat cakes) at Dan Tloome Primary School in Ikageng, Potchefstroom for many years, but this year she was told she couldn’t sell her food inside school premises. Nceba says now she sells the meals outside school premises, but she is no longer making enough money to feed her family.

“Hawkers have had a good relationship with the school. I mean I have been selling here for the past three years, but I was surprised this year when we were told to no longer sell our food inside the school. No one really explained to us why, but we heard rumours that the department says hawkers sell unhealthy food that cause children to become obese and tired.”

She says that she now sells her food outside the school, but things aren’t the same. “I don’t make enough money anymore as I return home with most of the stock. This was my family’s only source of income, so now I cannot provide for them like I used to before. It has become hard,” she says.

Nceba adds that the school should’ve warned them about the new developments and also guided them [the hawkers] on what should be sold.

“I think it would’ve been best if the school sat down with us, tried telling us what [should] be sold, or if we should change our menu. That would’ve been better because all we’re trying to do is feed our families and not harm anyone,” says Nceba.

Motheletsi Retsang, school safety and health coordinator from the Dr Kenneth Kaunda District office says that the decision isn’t final as all members of the school need to be involved in final decision making.

“Nothing is final yet, we need to consult the SGB [school governing body] and teachers. Only after that, a final decision can be made. Changes will affect everybody, so everyone has to be consulted so that we come up with a conclusion that suits everyone,” he says.

Unregulated school food environment

School tuckshops, and food and beverage vendors at schools have been under increased scrutiny, with calls for implementation of regulation coming from the advocacy organisation, Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA).

In 2018, HEALA conducted an audit of the food environment at 61 schools in Soweto and the East Rand, covering 62 883 learners. The aim of the audit was to investigate what primary and high school learners consume at schools by looking at the school nutrition programmes and what was being sold at tuckshops and by vendors.

According to this audit, over 88% of Gauteng schools had vendors. The audit further states that the vendors are not monitored in schools, except to make sure that they don’t sell cigarettes. The audit also found that sugary drinks were commonly consumed items with the kota, and that another popular item was ice lollies (frozen sugary drinks).

HEALA calls on the Department of Basic Education to implement the Tuckshop Operator Guidelines by ensuring that highly processed and fried food are not sold on school premises, and that the Department of Health should pass Regulation 429 into law. HEALA also calls on the Department of Health to ensure that stronger legislation is in place regarding the advertising and marketing of sugary drinks and junk food to children.

Also in 2018, Health-e News reported on the Scoping study, which investigated the school food environment nationally. The study showed that tuckshops and school hawkers are largely unregulated, with lax implementation of government guidelines, and that children gravitate towards unhealthy and low nutrition food. The study also highlighted structural barriers to school’s implementation of healthy tuckshops, such as affordability of healthy ingredients, and lack of proper food preparation facilities. – Health-e News