The Sugar Tax is a tax based on the sugar content of food beverages. The tax is fixed at 2.1 cents per gram of the sugar content that exceeds four grams per 100ml‚ which means the first teaspoon of sugar in 100ml is levy free. Fruit juices are exempt from the tax despite the fact that fruit juice in some instances, contain more sugar compared to sugary beverages.
Imposing sugar tax is an attempt from government to prevent or control the rapid rise in the prevalence of non-communicable diseases (diabetes type II, heart disease, obesity, etc.). The ideal would be to promote a diet which consists of a healthy variety of proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Yet, proteins are expensive even though they are a necessary component of our diet.
Sugar Tax combined with the increase in Value added Tax (VAT) will force people into purchasing more energy-dense, but less nutrient-dense food items. Foods that are energy dense have lots of calories per serving. Foods that are nutrient dense have high levels of nutrients per serving. Nutrient dense refers to the amount of vitamins, minerals, and/or protein in a food. In general, nutrient-dense food is more expensive when compared to energy-dense food. A diet high in energy but low in nutrients should not be promoted. This will affect especially the poor. There are 19 food items that are tax exempt and vegetables are part of this list. Lack of consumption of meat is a major cause of the high levels of vitamin A deficiency in our country.
The poorest of the poor, do not exclusively live on these 19 products. They require red meat. But red meat is not exempted from VAT which they need to consume to have a complete diet. Nutrient-dense vegetables have also become very expensive and the outbreak of Listeriosis, which has claimed over 180 lives, exacerbates the impact of not eating enough meat. The non- consumption of ready to eat meat like Polony (due to Listeriosis contamination from Rainbow, Enterprise processing plants) has removed from the menu of the poor, a few inexpensive protein-rich products.
This is by no means promoting the intake of processed foods. Rather, it refers to unprocessed meat, even though Listeriosis could also spread through fruit and vegetables (such as in Australia, where it was spread by watermelons). A number of recent research studies have reported on the detrimental impact of processed meats on health, especially the onset of cancer.
There is a significant increase in the prevalence of non-communicable diseases within the South African population. There are high levels of obesity in young children, even within poor communities. Government is making an honest attempt at promoting a healthy lifestyle, including dietary intake.
The sugar tax and increase in VAT to 15 percent does not differentiate between the poor and the rich. With the increase in VAT, more of the middle-class will be sucked into poverty and opt for cheaper energy-dense food items. The outcome of this is that there will be a differentiation in the outcome, between the poor and the rich. The poor will experience a more negative impact.
The treatment of non-communicable diseases is a daunting task and any intervention that assists in prevention of sugar related non-communicable disease should be welcomed by the health industry. The consumption of large amounts of sugary beverages has been proven to be a major factor leading to obesity, almost everywhere in the world. That is what the sugar tax targets. Whether the sugar tax, together with the increase in VAT, will have the desired outcome, is something that will become apparent in a few years from now. Public health strategies are long-term strategies and difficult to predict. But what is known however is that the United States of America (USA), Mexico, Brazil and France have all experienced lower demand for sugary beverages due higher beverage prices.