JOHANNESBURG, A sugar tax alone will not solve South Africa’s obesity problems; education and physical exercise are just as important. That’s the word from a roundtable discussion organized here this week by Mondelez International, an international company manufacturing snacks in 165 countries.
The South African government wants to introduce a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages to reduce excessive sugar intake, just one of many proposed strategies aimed at preventing and controlling obesity in South Africa.
South Africa has a growing obesity burden and is ranked in the top three countries globally with high obesity numbers with close to 40 per cent of women and 11 per cent of men classified as obese. There has been much opposition to the proposed sugar tax, while those in favour want to see where the money goes.
Mondelez South Africa Managing Director Joost Vlaanderen said: “We are very conscious and very concerned about the rise of obesity. Worldwide, there are 1.3 billion (obese) people, that’s a lot. At the same time, an even higher number, 60 per cent of the world’s population does not get the 30 minutes recommended exercise in a day.
“We can’t solve the problem of obesity ourselves. If the world stops making chocolate, obesity would not go away. It’s 10 times more complex than that and complex problems seldom have one solution.”
Dr. Estelle Watson from the Centre of Exercise Science and Sports Medicine at the University of the Witwatersrand here says the sugar tax is not an instant solution to the country’s health problems.
“From a common sense perspective, I think we need to be careful to not isolate it into one issue and not to change our behaviours from one excessive behaviour to another. So from a sedentary behaviour perspective to we’ve got all these standing desks and now we think that’s going to be our solution to sitting all day, but actually that could bring a whole lot of other problems. And so changing people’s consumer behaviours might change it to other problems so I think we need to just be careful.”
Unathi Sihlahla from INMED Partnerships for Children says it is difficult to say yes or no to a sugar tax alone. Sihlahla believes in the importance of educating children about healthy living.
“At the end of the day what happens to that tax because we need more education. Our belief is that kids, as young as they are, they need to be educated on how to make better choices. When they go to the supermarket they need to be able to make sure what choice to make because this tax does not guarantee that we will have a healthy nation.”
Medispace Lifestyle Institute’s Dr. Tshidi Gule says the tax should be used to benefit children. “It’s a conditional yes, if the money is going into healthy nutrition towards children and can be proven, yes; otherwise, no. Speakers have agreed that obesity is a complex problem that requires a holistic approach to address.”
Source: NAM NEWS NETWORK