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20% sugar tax on drinks could lower obesity risk: South African researchers

DBR Staff Writer Published 22 August 2014

Researchers from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, have found that a 20% tax imposed on sugar sweetened beverages (SSB) could reduce obesity in young adults.

According to the data presented, the 20% price rise per unit of SSB is likely to reduce energy intake by about 36 kilojoules a day, resulting in a 3.8% reduction in obesity in men and a 2.4% in women.

Consumption of one SSB a day is likely to increase chances of being overweight by 27% in adults and 55% in children.

SSBs do not offer essential nutrients, have a high sugar content and a strong link to weight gain. However, these sugary drinks are not the only reason for an increase in body fat, researchers said.

The research has been undertaken by the Priority Cost Effective Lessons for System Strengthening (Priceless-SA) program in the MRC/Wits Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Unit in the Wits School of Public Health; the School of Population Health at the University of Queensland, Australia; the Discipline of Public Health Medicine at the University of KwaZulu-Natal; and the South African Human Sciences Research Council.

Priceless-SA researcher Manyema said: "It is the responsibility of the government to protect the health of its population. One way of doing so is through 'nudging' people to make healthier and more sustainable choices.

"An SSB tax has the potential to do this in addressing obesity-related diseases."

The research follows a recommendation by the South African Ministry of Health to restrict foods high in sugar in order to address obesity and its related diseases.