WHO supports proposed sugar-sweetened beverages tax in South Africa

The World Health Organization supports the consideration of Government
of South Africa of introduction of a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages
(SSB) to help reduce excessive sugar intake. This is one of
interventions proposed in the Strategy for the prevention and control
of obesity in South Africa 2015-2020. WHO has supported introduction of
such taxes since it was proposed by the National Treasury in August
2016.

WHO’s Representative to South Africa, Dr Rufaro Chatora, took part in a
parliamentary hearing held on 31 January to discuss the proposed SSB
tax. During his presentation, Dr Chatora highlighted the evidence and
the impact of SSB tax. Experience from other countries which
implemented the same tax demonstrates its potential to reduce
consumption of sugar and raise revenues that can be used to prevent and
control diabetes, obesity and other noncommunicable diseases (NCDs).

In recent days, the WHO Executive Board was held, during which Board
members asked the WHO Secretariat for more information on a range of
policy options and cost-effective interventions proposed by WHO to
prevent and control NCDs, including the use of taxation on SSBs, before
the next World Health Assembly (22-31 May).

There has been no “veto” of such interventions proposed by WHO or its
Executive Board, including SSBs, despite industry statements and media
reporting based on such statements. WHO Member States have asked for
more information on these interventions ahead of the upcoming World
Health Assembly.

“WHO stands ready to support the Republic of South Africa, and as well
as other countries, in protecting and improving the health their
citizens and offering effective, technically sound and feasible
measures to promote health for all people, no matter age, gender or
background,” says Dr Chatora.

Taxation on SSB is just one of a range of cost-effective measures
proposed by WHO to curb the threat of NCDs, responsible for the deaths
of 16 million people every year before the age of 70. Other
interventions targeting obesity include nutrition labelling; marketing
restrictions of unhealthy foods and beverages to kids; fruit and
vegetable subsidies; physical activity policies and social marketing
campaigns. WHO member states around the world, including South Africa,
have committed to halt the rise of obesity and diabetes, reduce
premature deaths from NCDs by 25% by 2025 and one-third by 2030, the
latter target in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.