The Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA) and Rural Health Advocacy Project (RHAP) call for an increase in the so-called sugar sweetened beverage tax and inclusion of fruit juices to reduce diet-related disease and death, and raise much-needed revenue amidst COVID-19 health demands and budget deficits.
Johannesburg, 4 November: Advocacy groups for healthy food in South Africa have made a strong call backed by scientific evidence for an increase from 11% to 20% of the Health Promotion Levy (HPL), and to include fruit juices in the levy.
Responding to Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s 2020 Medium Term Budget Policy Statement last week, the Healthy Living Alliance and Rural Health Advocacy Project highlight how South Africa is grappling with both a COVID-19 epidemic and an obesity epidemic.
Nearly 70% of South African women, 31% of men and 13% of children under five are considered overweight. This is fuelling noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease which put people at greater risk of severe COVID-19 illness and death. South Africa has the highest recorded number of cases and deaths in Africa. The collision of the COVID-19 and the NCD epidemics has significantly increased demands on the country’s health system.
“Sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) such as sodas and fruit juices, as well as ultra-processed foods (industrially made ‘ready to eat and heat’ foods such as cereals and processed meats) contribute to obesity, a key risk factor for type 2 diabetes,” said Mr Lawrence Mbalati, HEALA’s programmes manager.
In 2018, South Africa was the first country in the African Region to introduce a tax on sugary beverages, a strategy which the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends as an effective way to reduce sugar consumption and address NCDs. South Africa’s HPL aimed to address rising rates of overweight, obesity and diet-related NCDs, and raise much needed revenue for health promotion.
According to National Treasury data, the HPL raised R3.195 billion in the first fiscal year (April 2018 – October 2019). While the tax is currently set at 11%, HEALA and RHAP have urged the Finance Minister to increase this to WHO’s recommended rate of 20%, which could drop demand by 24%.
“We don’t know the impact of the HPL because NEDLAC’s study on this has still not been completed. We are repeating our call for fruit juices to be included. Excluding them leads people to believe that juices are healthier, when in fact the sugar content is similarly high to soft drinks. Marketing fruit juice as a ‘healthy alternative’ to children and parents puts them at risk of consuming excessive amounts of sugar. Fresh fruits are fine on their own, but when turned into fruit juice, much more fruit is needed to make up the volume. Our bodies process these additional sugars in the same way as SSBs,” he said.
“Now more than ever, South Africa will benefit from an increased HPL tax for additional revenue and help to reduce risks related to obesity,” concluded Mr Mbalati.
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Issued by Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA) and Rural Health Advocacy Project (RHAP)
For media interviews, please contact Lawrence Mbalati, HEALA Programmes Manager, 082 734 5414