Sugar tax in South Africa results in ‘positive changes’

23 Apr 2021

A study published in The Lancet found that following the 2018 implementation of a 10% tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in South Africa, the overall consumption of sugar from these beverages fell 35% from 16.25 grams per person daily to 10.63 grams per person daily.

Beverage purchases as a whole fell 15% from 519 milliliters per day to 443.39 milliliters following the introduction of the levy.

Sugar tax in South Africa results in ‘positive changes’

The study noted that the majority of the reduction in consumption stemmed from households in lower socioeconomic statuses, pointing to price sensitivity as the catalyst for the large drop in purchases of sugary beverages. Prior to the implementation of this sugary beverage tax, the study noted that these same households purchased larger amounts of the no-taxable beverages than wealthier households.

“Our findings also align with economic theory and empirical evidence, including earlier findings in Mexico, showing larger relative reductions in purchases of taxable beverages among lower Living Standards Measure (LSM) households compared with reductions observed in higher LSM households.” One year after introducing a 1-peso-per-litre tax on beverages containing added sugar, Mexico saw a 6% reduction in purchased volume relative to pre-tax trends over the first year of the tax, and 7·6% reduction over the first two years of the tax.

South Africa has the greatest number of residents suffering from diet-related non-communicable diseases in Sub-Saharan Africa. With so many of its population overweight and reacting negatively to heightened sugar intake, South Africa became the first country in its region to enact such a levy on sugary beverages. The promising results identified in the study indicate that “the reduction in sugar from taxable beverage purchases suggest a potential role for sugar-based taxes more broadly.”

Taxes on sugary beverages are not unique to South Africa. Other countries like the UK and parts of the United States have implemented variations of sugar taxes or sweetened beverages and results have shown that it leads to a decline in the intake of sugary drinks.

Nevertheless, the study cautioned that trends in higher income countries are not reflective of potential results in other African countries. In South Africa though, the effects on an individual’s health engendered by this tax can be seen clearly. Following the implementation of this levy calorie consumption reduced 27%.

The tax “has coincided with a large reduction in purchases in terms of volumes and sugar quantities from taxable beverages.”

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