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Wed Sep 28 20:51:39 SAST 2016

The sweet taste of excess

Nivashni Nair | 27 January, 2016 00:42
According to a report released by the commission, soft drinks and their adverts aimed at children were a major factor in the alarming increase of obese children from 31 million in 1990 to 41 million in 2014. File photo
Image by: Lori Martin / shutterstock.com

Coca-Cola advertising alongside school names could be history if the government heeds a call by the World Health Organisation.

The WHO wants a sugar tax on soft drinks. It also wants junk-food advertisements removed from areas frequented by children.

Predicting that the number of overweight children aged under five will jump from 42 million to 70 million in the next decade, the WHO Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity has recommended that governments promote healthy diets by means of "effective taxation on sugar-sweetened beverages and curbing the marketing of unhealthy foods".

According to a report released by the commission, soft drinks and their adverts aimed at children were a major factor in the alarming increase of obese children from 31 million in 1990 to 41 million in 2014. The commission found that, in Africa, obesity in children under five has nearly doubled since 1990 (5.4 million) to 10.3 million.

Professor Karen Hofman of Wits University's Priceless Unit yesterday said a sugar tax was an "excellent recommendation".

"It is exactly what is needed. We cannot wait any longer. Drinking just one sugar-sweetened beverage a day increases the risk of diabetes by 55% in children and 30% in adults. Research shows self-regulation does not work.

"Our research in Soweto also shows that, even though a pledge not to market to children is already in place, 50% of schools have billboards either in, or close to, school grounds advertising a particular brand of soft drink," said Hofman.

But the Beverages Association of South Africa strongly disagrees that "selective taxation" is an effective way to combat obesity.

"Singling out one category of products for additional taxation is discriminatory, will do nothing to promote healthy and balanced lifestyles and will not ultimately benefit consumer health," said the association's executive director, Mapule Ncanywa.

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