In frantic move to reduce the number of people with obesity in the country, South Africa has introduced a tax on drinks loaded with sugar becoming the first African country to impose a tax on the fizzy drink.
Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan introduced the tax on everything from carbonated soft drinks to flavoured water in his February’s budget speech, partly as a way to tackle the country’s bulging budget deficit, but also to deal with people’s bulging waistlines.
The tax could hurt many in the country, for whom a supermarket trip is not complete without stocking up on their beloved garish fizzy liquid.
South Africa has not been spared as obesity levels have soared around the world in the past couple of decades.
At an average of less than $0.50c (£0.36) for a 330ml can, sweetened drinks are affordable for the vast majority, and have become a regular feature of the weekly diet.
According to a 2014 World Health Organization (WHO) estimate, one in four South Africans are obese.
A 2013 study by the Human Sciences Research Council in Johannesburg pointed the finger at sugar as being one of the possible culprits, saying that one in five South Africans consume an excessive amount of sugar.
The average South African, according to the results from a survey of 25,000 people, now have 17 teaspoons of sugar a day.
And although not the sole culprit, high sugar consumption has been linked to the development of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, which all put a strain on the publicly-funded health system.
But University of Johannesburg third-year students Nomzamo and Precious said they are not about to give up their sugary treats. “I buy fizzy drinks because I love the taste, “ 21-years-old Nomzamo said as she surveyed her options in a packed supermarket fridge.
“It’s also convenient and I don’t have to worry about preparing something to drink if I have people coming over”, she added.
Recently the National Health Service (NHS) said it will impose its own “sugar tax” in hospitals and health centres in England to help tackle the growing problem of obesity.
Chief executive Simon Stevens told the Guardian newspaper he was proposing a 20% tax on all sugary drinks and foods in NHS cafes to be introduced by 2020.
He said the NHS’s 1.3 million staff had a “responsibility” to lead by example, and urged MPs to take similar action.
David Cameron has said he would not rule out a national sugar tax.
It is expected the NHS levy, which would initially only apply to sugary drinks, could raise £20m-£40m a year, Mr Stevens said.
It is hoped the tax would discourage staff, patients and visitors from buying sugary items, while the money raised would be used to improve the health of the NHS’s large workforce, he said.
It would be the first public body in Britain to impose a sugar tax.
The Welsh government and the Northern Ireland executive said there were no plans for a similar measure in their respective NHS facilities.
Mr Stevens said: “Because of the role that the NHS occupies in national life, all of us working in the NHS have a responsibility not just to support those who look after patients, but also to draw attention to and make the case for some of the wider changes that will actually improve the health of this country.
“It’s not just the well-being of people in this country and our children. But it’s also the sustainability of the NHS itself,” he added.
Bosses would consult on introducing the tax, which would be gradually enforced as catering and hospital shop contracts come up for renewal over the next three to five years.
The NHS levy would be linked to the government’s forthcoming national childhood obesity strategy.
The campaign group, Action on Sugar, welcomed the idea – saying it had been a long-time coming.
However, free market think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs said the idea was “ineffective, but also unfair”.
Head of lifestyle economics Chris Snowdon said: “Taxing soft drinks, no matter where they are purchased, hits the poorest hardest and has never been shown to reduce obesity anywhere in the world.
The proposal comes days after David Cameron signalled that he was prepared to drop his opposition to a sugar tax. Number 10 previously said the prime minister “doesn’t see a need for a tax on sugar”.
Mr Cameron told journalists it would be better not to have to resort to new taxes but said that “what matters is we do make progress” on obesity.
In October a report by Public Health England recommended a tax of between 10 and 20% on high-sugar products as one of the measures needed to achieve a “meaningful” reduction in sugar consumption.
Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has also campaigned for such a move, while a new study in the British Medical Journal said Mexico’s sugary drinks tax led to a 12% reduction in sales.
Ian Wright of the Food and Drink Federation, said it was puzzling that Mr Stevens has chosen to pre-empt the launch of Government’s comprehensive obesity strategy, by announcing plans for new taxes.
“Public Health England acknowledges that there is a lack of evidence about the long-term effectiveness of additional taxes on food and drink. We can only assume, therefore, that today’s announcement is driven more by the need to raise money than by any wish to change behaviours.”