PRICELESS SA adds voice to Treasury's proposed tax on sugar-sweetened beverages

JULY 12, 2016

Following National Treasury’s release of a policy paper on the taxation of sugar-sweetened beverages, Priceless SA** says that while this tax will boost revenue, a point which South Africans are missing, which is equally, if not more important, is the cost of inaction should this tax not be implemented.

"250 000 South Africans are being diagnosed each year as being clinically obese. If South Africans don’t drastically reduce the number of cool drinks, juices and sugar-sweetened beverages they drink every day, there will be more than nine million obese adults in the country by 2017.  Our health department will simply not be able to cope," describes Professor Karen Hofman, Director of Priceless SA.

"South Africa is the most obese nation on the African continent and it has joined the likes of global heavyweights such as Mexico and the US. The 2017 projection, captured in a study by PRICELESS, means there will be 1.2 million more obese adults in South Africa. And more than one-quarter of these people will be obese because of the sugar sweetened beverages they drank.

"These drinks are not the only reason for the increase in obesity. But because they are high in sugar and contain no essential nutrients, they are a significant contributor. For adults, drinking just one of these beverages a day increases the likelihood of being overweight by almost 30%. For children, this risk increases to more than 50%. Other factors that contribute to obesity and overweight are eating fast food or processed food on a regular basis and not exercising."

Prof Hofman says that across the country, sugar-sweetened beverages result in one death every hour. Lifestyle diseases related to obesity, which can result in stroke, blindness, amputations and kidney failure, not only shorten one’s lifespan but also affect their quality of life.

"These deaths and disabilities place a major financial strain on families and on the already overburdened healthcare system.   Obese people are costing 50% more in terms of health care compared to the average healthy consumer. If you extrapolate the cost of lifestyle disease to the fiscus, it has bearing on the economy overall, the Department of Health and eventually the tax payer," she adds.

"If preventive measures are not introduced it is highly likely that people will drink more and more sugar-sweetened drinks over the next few years.

"Lancet Research on seven different best buys to prevent obesity shows that taxes are by far the most cost effective intervention with most impact. Taxes cannot and should not work in isolation and are just the first step in a process, followed by food advertising regulation and then food labelling."

According to her, a tax is one of the many interventions that need to work hand in hand and the highlighted ones have been identified as being the most cost-effective (cost per capita);

Fiscal measures (eg taxes)


Food advertising regulation


Food labeling


Worksite interventions


Mass-media campaigns


School-based interventions


Physician counseling



"South Africa’s healthcare budget, like others around the world, is not infinite. This means every rand spent on one intervention is a rand not spent on another. Trade-offs are inevitable and how we prioritise resources fairly and equitably must be based on evidence of what works and at what cost. On this basis, the tax makes complete sense," she says.

**PRICELESS SA (Priority Cost Effective Lessons for System Strengthening South Africa) is hosted by Wits University School of Public Health in the Faculty of Health Sciences, together with the SA Medical Research Council and the Wits Unit in Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Research (Agincourt).