How taxation and subsidies can work together to ensure that South Africans have healthier diets

The theme for this year is My Health, My Right. The theme according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) “was chosen to champion the right of everyone, everywhere to have access to quality health services, education, and information, as well as safe drinking water, clean air, [and] good nutrition”.

South Africa is facing an alarming scourge of under-and over nutrition. Over 1 in 4 children in the country are stunted, while 1 in 8 children under the age of 5 are obese and overweight. On the other hand, almost 70 percent of adult women in the country have overweight and obesity.

“While eight million children go hungry every day and a quarter of all children are stunted, we also see that one in eight children is overweight. According to statistics, these children will grow into a cohort of adults where every second person is obese,” explains Petronell Kruger, Programmes Manager at the Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA)

Being overweight or obese is a well-known driver of diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

What can be done?

Nutrition is one of the most important contributors to good health, HEALA believes that urgent interventions by government need to be put in place to urgently address these issues. Research shows that subsidising healthy food, which can be more expensive than unhealthy, energy dense alternatives, has been shown to decrease the consumption of unhealthy food and lead to healthier life outcomes for all.

Where will the money come from?

Experts suggest that taxes from SSB such as South Africa’s Health Promotion Levy (HPL) can be used to fund various health promotion intervention such as children’s diet and nutrition programmes and subsidising of healthy food.

From its inception on 1 April 2018 to 31 March 2021, the HPL has generated R7.9 billion in cumulative revenue from domestically produced and imported products. Specifically, collections in 2018/19, 2019/20 and 2020/21 were R3.2 billion, R2.5 billion and R2.1 billion respectively. An increase in the HPL to the recommended 20% could almost double the revenue collected by Treasury.


Why do we need to do this?

We need to end food poverty and we need policies to help South Africans eat less unhealthy food. Government must take steps to end hunger and poor nutrition.