A healthy economy needs a healthy population.

A stunted population means a stunted economy. It is a fact that food justice and economic development go hand in hand. The unbelievable cost of healthcare imposed by the upsurge of non-communicable diseases has a detrimental effect on our already struggling economy. And it is about to get worse.  

 According to the Global Obesity Observatory, in 2019, “the economic impact of overweight and obesity was estimated to be US$5.5billion. This is equivalent to US$95 per capita and 1.6% of GDP. Direct costs and indirect costs made up 44.8% and 55.2% of total costs, respectively.” 

 By 2060, the Global Obesity Observer estimates that economics impacts are predicted to increase to US$27.5billion. This is equivalent to US$352 per capita and 2.6% of GDP and represents a five-fold increase in total costs. 

Why we need a healthy economy.

 Reducing morbidity and mortality for all South Africans is an urgent matter that requires an approach that transcends access to health services. Strong decisive public policy is needed to address the broader social determinants of health by designing and implementing interventions that improve people’s health more effectively than individual interventions within the health sector, explains Nzama Mbalati, Programmes Head of the Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA). 

 These include, but are not limited to, raising the Health Promotion Levy, also known as the sugar tax, from 11 percent to 20 percent.  

 The high consumption of unhealthy sugary drinks increases the risk of health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, tooth decay and obesity.  

 “SSB taxes were associated with reduced sugary drink intake in a low-income population within a middle-income country,” found the Taxed and untaxed beverage intake by South African young adults after a national sugar-sweetened beverage tax: A before-and-after study. 

Don’t let the industry win

 Instead of kowtowing to the demands of the sugar industry, HEALA is calling for decisive action from government to safeguard the health of the nation. The threat of job losses is a well-known tactic used by the sugar industry to stop government from making much needed decisions to safeguard the wellbeing of the country’s citizens.  

 “There is a deep historical roots of the South African sugar industry and its influence on dietary sugar consumption at the population level. The sugar industry is a prime example of a colonial activity shaping the economy, polity, penetration of sugar content into food products, and diets over an extended historical period. In the modern, and specifically the post-apartheid, period the sugar industry has proved resilient,” Mbalati says.  

 Currently, the South African Sugar Association estimates the local sugar industry to be worth an eyewatering R18 Billion. It is now time for government to put people over industry profits.