Increase sugary drinks tax - lobby

Many 100% juices are not as healthier as a lot of people would think since they contain a lot of sugar.
Many 100% juices are not as healthier as a lot of people would think since they contain a lot of sugar.
Image: 123RF

There's just something about downing an ice-cold fruit juice. It tastes a hundred times better, because according to what we know, it's a healthier option right?

This is not so according to Healthy Living Alliance (Heala) - an organisation fighting for a healthier SA.

Despite the sugary drinks tax being in effect in SA, you're still consuming more sugar than you should according to Heala.

In a bid to combat the rise in lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart diseases and some cancers, Heala approached Treasury on February 10 to hand over the Health Promotion Levy petition, signed by 11,000 people. It was accepted by Marlon Geswint, Treasury's chief of staff.

The organisation, which was established in 2016, is currently fighting to have fruit juices included in the sugar tax as they are often portrayed as the healthier option, but contain a lot of added sugar as well.

Their other call is to have the sugar tax increased from 11% to 20%. A call that has received a lot of pushback.

"The sugary drinks industry have pushed back on the original call for a 20% tax to a point where the government compromised on a 11% tax. We are continuing our call for the tax to be increased, so there can be real results.

Lawrence Mbalati programme manager at Heala hands a petition to treasury's chief of staff Marlon Geswint.
Lawrence Mbalati programme manager at Heala hands a petition to treasury's chief of staff Marlon Geswint.
Image: Supplied

"The country is facing a grave pandemic. It is for this reason that Heala is calling for a sugary drinks tax to increase," says Lawrence Mbalati, Heala's programme manager.

Heala wants brands to change the way they display nutritional information on the packaging of food.

Just like with cigarettes and alcohol, they feel a large warning sign, informing the public that a product has added sugar or salt, should be standard on products.

"Firstly, people have to know what is in their food to make an informed decision. So, where we are at now very few people do not know what is in their food.

"The current packaging model of our food is telling us what is in it, but not in a way that is clear and comprehensible," Mbalati continues.

Heala believes that the lack of regulation in the food and beverage industry is part of the problem. But lack of education is also a major factor as well.

"You can never outrun all those sugary drinks because they have already caused the damage in your body. This is bigger and beyond just what I put in my kids' lunch box, it's a conscience decision that you as an ordinary South African need to stand up against and actually see that you are being manipulated by the industry," says Mbalati.

On their website, Heala currently has a campaign called "What's in my food?" This is where consumers can go to see what nutrients, sugars and fats are in their food. This is the first step to reforming the food and beverage industry according to the organisation.

Members of Heala protesting against unregulated sugary products.
Members of Heala protesting against unregulated sugary products.
Image: Supplied

"Having access to food is a fundamental human right, though people in this country and on the continent, go hungry every day."

Tackling the food issue in this country should be a multipronged approach, with policy, public awareness, government regulating and also the private sector being involved as well, Heala says.

"We need to have nutrition literacy in the country... food is a complex issue. We need a movement around food that will tackle, inequality, food access which is going to tackle food security," Mbalati explains.

So how do you the public start on a journey of becoming healthier? Start by cooking your own food.

"Ideally, people should be growing their own food, but we understand that urban and semi-urban people do not have access to land, in rural areas people do not have access to water.

"We understand that this is a complex problem. One of the alternatives is that people cook their own food," Mbalati elaborates.

A cry for the state to clamp down on non-communicable diseases.
A cry for the state to clamp down on non-communicable diseases.
Image: Supplied

When you cook your own food, you are in charge of how much salt, sugar or fats gets added into your food.

The dreaded lunch box is also something the organisation is tackling. They're calling for school tuckshops to have healthy alternatives.

"Heala understands that the ideal is to substitute sugary drinks with water and milk. We do advise that people start small gardens as well. We also understand that there is no time or space.

"We are working with people, particularly urban and semi-urban farmers, including schools, for schools to have vendors that provide alternative foods.

"Another difficulty is that kids could be informed, but when they get to school they will find that the tuck-shops sells sweets and sugary drinks, but nothing else.

"We believe as Heala that the consumer must stand up, do what is within their control, like looking at healthier options where it is feasible."

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