Kids Consume Up To 200% More Sugar Than Recommended

Written for Health-e News



Written By: Thabo Molelekwa

Liquid sugar is easily absorbed, and most of the sugar from sweetened beverages has no nutritional value beyond the sugar content.

The fact that sugary drinks are a major cause of obesity and diabetes came into focus at the recent Cardio Vascular Disease Imbizo in Sandton, Johannesburg.

Speaking at the Imbizo Lynn Moeng Mahlangu, the cluster manager of Health Promotion and Nutrition at the National Department of Health, said that the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages or SSBs has strongly been linked with type 2 diabetes.

“In 2013 the Department of Health developed a strategy to tackle non-communicable diseases, and one of the keys was to reduce sugar intake by 10%,” she said.

Moeng Mahlangu said that South Africa is in the top three countries in Africa when it comes to people living with obesity.

She said one of the reasons for this is the high cost of healthy food.

“People choose healthy products because they are cheaper,” said Moeng Mahlangu.

“This is one of the debates we are having, involving other departments like agriculture,” she said.

“Our children are consuming 40-to-60 grams of sugar a day. This means their intake is between 100 and 200% more than they should,” she said.

Obesity in children

She said this was a dangerous situation as obese children generally tended to remain obese throughout life, and much of this was due to the consumption of sugary drinks.

According to Professor Karen Sliwa, director of the Hatter Institute for Cardiovascular Research in Africa and president-elect of the World Heart Federation, there is overwhelming data to confirm that a very high sugar intake has a negative impact on health.

“It is bad in many ways. It makes us obese, especially when we don’t move enough,” she said.

“You can develop diabetes, high blood pressure, you can develop heart disease or have a stroke,” said Sliwa, adding that these factors can lead to long periods of ill health or early death.

According to Sliwa, implementing a tax on sugar tax is one way of trying to combat this disease, as making SSBs more expensive would drive down consumption.

“By decreasing the amount of sugar in beverages we can address some of those issues,” she said, adding that a sugar tax alone was not enough to address the problem properly.

“Although the sugar beverage tax will hopefully show the same results experienced in other countries where it saw a decrease in obesity, the core issues around poverty still needed to be looked at,”said Sliwa.

She said it was important for government to take the lead and make South Africa one of the first countries in Africa to implement the tax.

Sliwa said that educating the people on healthy living was important.

“Some people don’t know that if you are short of breath it can mean that your heart is failing. People don’t know that there is no cure for diabetes and that you always have to take your medication,” she said.

Professor Liesl Zuhlke, President of the South African Heart Association said the health of children needed to be made a priority.

“If you are fat at 13 years, its possible that you will stay fat until you are old,” she said, explaining why children needed to be taught to make good choices for themselves.

Health-e News – Parliament Finally Ready to Vote on Sugary Drinks Tax

Comment from SANCDA: Please note the Bill containing the SSB tax was passed by the Standing Committee on Finance yesterday with only 2 more steps (National Assembly and Council of Provinces) to go. Then the Health Promotion Levy will be part of a bundle of financial measures to be implemented on 1 April 2017. The rate is approximately half of what was originally proposed but still represents a good starting point for the battle on obesity and unwanted sugar.

HEALA public awareness campaign: Are you drinking yourself sick?


The Standing Committee on Finance voted yesterday (7 November) to adopt the Rates and Monetary Amounts and Amendment of the Revenue Laws Bill, which includes the sugary drinks tax.

The Bill will go first to the National Assembly then to the National Council of Provinces before the month is out.

“We know everyone has grievances [against the tax] but this was the best we could do with the current balance of forces,” said committee chairperson Yunus Carrim. “We can’t tell its impact yet, so Parliament will need regular reports on the impact of the tax on job losses and on health.”

‘First time’

The committee has overseen four public hearings as well as an elaborate negotiation process in the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac).

“This is the first time in 23 years that a tax law has been negotiated in Nedlac,” said Cosatu’s Matthew Parks.

Parks said the federation was pleased that government had made concessions on its original proposal of a 20 percent tax on all sugary drinks.

“Government has reduced the tax to 10 percent, exempted the first 4g of sugar per 100ml and excluded 100 percent pure fruit juices from the tax,” said Parks.

“Nedlac has adopted a jobs plan to mitigate against job losses. There has been an underlying crisis in the sugar industry since 2000 and around 20,000 jobs have already been lost, mainly because of cheap sugar being imported,” said Parks. “The jobs plan negotiated in Nedlac includes that the import tariff on sugar must be increased and that government must help small sugar farmers.”

Health promotion levy

We are confident that members of parliament will put the health of the millions of people who elected them before the narrow interests of the beverage and sugar industries and pass the bill as it stands.”

Other measures include an undertaking by the beverage industry to manufacture the labels for its plastic bottles in South Africa and to use locally produced phosphate in its production.

However, Parks said that Cosatu supported the health goal of the tax – which has been renamed a ‘health promotion levy’.

“There needs to be a meaningful commitment from government to ensure that the income foes towards health,” said Parks. “The Department of Health needs to have a public education campaign, particularly in schools, to change people’s behaviour.”

Carrim said the committee had considered four main issues in relation to the tax: “The impact on job losses, the impact on small African emerging farmers, what the Department of Health is doing to create awareness about the dangers of sugary drinks and how the levy can be used to address obesity.”

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party’s Alf Lees said the DA caucus had yet to decide whether to support the tax.

“We are confident that members of parliament will put the health of the millions of people who elected them before the narrow interests of the beverage and sugar industries and pass the bill as it stands,” said Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA) co-ordinator Tracey Malawana.

Heart disease, diabetes, stroke and other obesity-related diseases account for about 55% of deaths in South Africa. Diabetes alone claimed more than 25 000 lives in 2015, according to Statistics SA. Some 10 000 new cases are diagnosed at public health facilities each month.

South Africans are among the top 10 consumers of soft drinks in the world and research has shown that drinking just one sugary fizzy drink a day increases the chances of being overweight by 27% for adults and 55% for children, according to HEALA. – Health-e News.