Targeting sugar will not reduce obesity, says industry boss

Which are the food culprits that are making South Africans fat?

This is the question that the South African Sugar Association (Sasa) wants the government to answer before rolling out a sugar tax on sweetened beverages.

Yesterday the association’s chairman, Rolf Lutge, said the government’s approach of targeting one food group – the sugar industry – would not reduce levels of obesity.

The association proposes a study that examines the total diet of South Africans be conducted as a first critical step to deal with obesity.

The proposal is contained in Sasa’s submission to the government’s policy paper on sugar taxation, which closed last month.

A study, conducted by the University of North West school of biokinetics, recreation and sport science last year, revealed that nearly two-thirds of the population is overweight and that our children have the third-highest obesity rate in the world.

“While the Treasury may argue that the introduction of a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages will result in reduced obesity levels, there is no scientific evidence showing this,” Lütge said.

According to the national Treasury policy paper on taxation of sugar sweetened beverages, a tax of R0.029 (2.9 cents) per gram of sugar in all sweetened drinks except for 100% fruit juices will come into effect in April next year.

The association said the sugar tax would result in thousands of job losses.

The Treasury has not responded to the proposal.