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South Africa’s sugar tax leads to reduced intake of sugar-sweetened beverages

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South Africa’s introduction of 2018 “sugar tax” has led to a reduction in purchases of sugar-sweetened beverages, according to a research by experts.

The study was done by The SAMRC/Wits Centre for Health Economics and Decision Science (PRICELESS SA) in partnership with the University of North Carolina, U.S.

Researchers examined more than 3,000 households’ purchases before and after the implementation of the tax to assess any changes in daily sugar, calories, and volume of taxed and non-taxed beverages.

The results showed that households reduced sugar by 51 percent, calories by 52 percent and 29 percent reduction in volume of beverages purchased per person per day following implementation of the sugar tax, said PRICELESS SA senior researcher Nicholas Stacey.

“These results back up the impact we have seen from similar policies in other countries — that beverage taxes based on sugar content can help reduce excessive sugar and energy intake,” said Karen Hofman, the director of PRICELESS-SA.

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The researchers also scrutinized purchasing behavior by household of different socioeconomic status, and discovered that that households with lower socioeconomic status purchased more taxable beverages prior to the announcement of the tax than higher socioeconomic status households, but experienced larger reductions after the announcement and implementation of the tax.

“Importantly, this shows that the lower income households that experience the greater burden of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and other nutrition-related non-communicable diseases, benefit greatly from this Health Promotion Levy,” Hofman said.

“We also found that the relative reduction in the sugar content of taxable beverages was larger than that for volume, showing that industry reformulated products,” said Stacey.

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