While sweet foods were formerly a significant source of energy, we today consume far too much of them. Evolutionarily speaking, sweetness appeals to us. Our ancestors relied heavily on sweet foods for energy, such as fruit and honey.
However, in the modern world, sweetened foods are widely accessible, incredibly affordable, and heavily advertised. We are currently consuming too much sugar in our foods and beverages, especially added sugar as opposed to naturally occurring sugar. The health effects of consuming too much added sugar are negative. It has been associated with tooth decay, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.
Manufacturers began utilizing non-nutritive sweeteners to sweeten food as a result of these health issues. These sweeteners come from both artificial sources, like aspartame, and natural ones, like stevia, and range in kilojoule content from zero to very little.
A study by a University of Witswatersrand study, South Africans consume 12 to 24 teaspoons of sugar daily, of which four to eight come from processed drinks that have been sweetened with sugar. Soft drinks, fruit beverages, sports and energy beverages, vitamin water beverages, and ice teas are some of these.
A can of Coca-Cola contains a little over 8 teaspoons, a can of Fanta Grape contains around 10.5 teaspoons, and a can of fruit juice typically contains around 9 teaspoons. The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests 12 tablespoons per day for adults and kids, including added sugars, which amounts to less than 10% of total caloric intake. Based on the 250 calories for men and the recommended calorie intake for women in South Africa, that is 202 calories. However, it is asserted that cutting back on sugar by 5% has additional health advantages.
The health Promotion Levy, the tax on sugary drinks, was implemented in 2018. The Tax was an attempt by the South African government to address the country’s raging diabetes epidemic and high rates of obesity.
In the first year of its implementation, the sugar tax cost South Africa more than 16 000 jobs and R2.05-billion. This is despite the government failing to produce any evidence to date that the tax has had any impact on bringing down obesity levels in the country. According to the South African Sugar Association, direct employment in the sugar industry is about 85 000 jobs and indirect employment is estimated at 350 000 jobs.
In the fiscal year 2021/22, the sugar tax generated R2.2 billion, with R77 million coming from imports. According to him, this revenue represents a 6.92% increase over the R2.11 billion in receipts from 2020–21.
In his first budget statement in February, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana announced an increase in the sugar tax. The tax was supposed to rise from R2.21 per gram of sugar to R2.31. Beverages having more than 4g of sugar per 100 ml fall under this category.
The SA Canegrowers Association stated that the sugar growers, particularly small-scale farmers, will appreciate the delay of the sugar tax increase. “However, while the announcement provides some short-term relief to growers, it is critical that the government focuses on assessing the long-term implications of keeping the tax in place,” said Thomas Funke, the chief executive of SA Canegrowers.
Not all sugar is made the same
Natural Sugar: So, how can we prevent ourselves from consuming more sugar than is advised when eating or drinking? Knowing the facts is always the first step. Here is an overview of the many types of sugars and some dietary warnings.
It is a safe and healthful food that comes in the form of carbohydrates and is frequently found in fruits (fructose) and milk (lactose). They also contribute to a balanced diet because they are high in vitamins and fiber, low in calories, and low in sodium.
Added sugar: is primarily made from sugar cane or sugar beets that have been refined, and it is added to practically all processed goods to increase sweetness, lengthen shelf life, or alter color, form, or texture. Avoid the kind like the plague. The majority of foods, including cereals, flavor-enhanced milk or yogurt, fruit juices, energy drinks, fruit bars, bread, salad dressings, sauces, and prepared meals, contain added sugars, which have been linked to illnesses of the lifestyle.
Foods recommended for a low-sugar lifestyle include
Since they naturally include sugar, fruits and vegetables, whole foods, and versions of foods with the full amount of fat are all preferable to low-fat alternatives (unrefined and unprocessed foods). To reduce the amount of sugar you consume, consider making your own meals, opt for plain yogurt over flavor-flavored varieties, and try eating raw oats for breakfast along with dried fruit, nuts, and dates for snacks and dessert.
Water, flavor-enhanced water flavors including cucumber, mint, or lemon), fruit and herbal teas, unsweetened tea, and black or flat white coffee are all acceptable beverages. While some contend that sugar does not contribute to the development of conditions like diabetes, research has shown that being overweight or obese conditions that can be exacerbated by sugar consumption increases the risk of developing conditions like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and cancer by a factor of four to eight. Even worse, it’s addictive, and we should aim for moderation just like with other addictive substances.
A roadmap for South African health: How the “sugar tax” fared in other countries
Since the sugar tax structure was criticized for being weak from the beginning, the impact has been far better than some had anticipated. A year-long “public consultation” period resulted in the proposed tax being reduced from 20% to 10% (effectively 11% by the time it came into effect due to an inflation-linked rise), which was viewed as the government caving to pressure from the sugar industry. However, at the final rate of 11% of the price of one litre of a sugar-sweetened beverage, it was considered not high enough.
However, Hofman argues that it is still too early to use local data to demonstrate that taxing sugary drinks (and possibly all sugary and highly processed meals) reduces the prevalence of obesity and diabetes.
“The issue of the long-term impact on diabetes and obesity is harder to show because it takes many years to show that. In Finland, where there’s a lot of health promotion, it took 20 years before the health of Finnish citizens really changed in terms of life expectancy from non-communicable diseases. But we have to start somewhere. This is not a silver bullet, but it is one of several things that must and should be done. The fact is, taxes have worked across the world, many jurisdictions have had success and are showing that these taxes actually do work.
Global rates of obesity and diabetes are rising, and more than 50 nations, including Morocco, Botswana, and Zambia, have imposed a levy on sugary beverages. Despite choosing to adopt tax rates below the minimum of 20% recommended by the WHO, nations like South Africa, Mexico, and Chile nonetheless appear to be successful in reducing the consumption of sugary drinks.
For instance, Mexico implemented a tax of one peso per liter of a sugar-sweetened beverage in 2014, and in the first two years following implementation, sales of sugary beverages fell by an average of 7.6% (a decrease of 5.5% in 2014 and 9.7% in 2015). The impact of South Africa’s tax is even bigger, according to an analysis that was published in Lancet Planetary Health, leading the study’s authors to propose “a possible role for sugar-based taxes more broadly.”
South Africa set the bar for the rest of the continent by first instituting the tax and then basing the levy on sugar content rather than volume. Taxing sugar-sweetened beverages in accordance with their sugar content is a more accurate strategy to target the cause of the harm these goods cause because they contain varying levels of sugar. Additionally, it encourages beverage producers to lower the amount of sugar in their offerings.
The world’s top soft drink consumers come from South Africa. Advocates embraced the chance to achieve a life-saving policy reform while simultaneously anticipating severe opposition because there is ample evidence that pricing sugary beverages reduces consumption and improves health.
The sugary drink industry did not support this idea, and their allies opposed the tax from the start and tried to block it with their resources and clout. They started a campaign that was made public in which they claimed the tax would not be effective and would damage jobs in South Africa. Threatening calls to decision-makers about opposing the tax were received in private.
The government’s legal team used international scientific research to refute business arguments and show that levies on sugary drinks cut consumption without harming employment. They urged politicians to prioritize South Africa’s health over serving their own interests. This steady barrage of deeds assisted in framing the discussion surrounding the public health messaging and in reducing some industry influence.
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