Senior Researcher at Wits Health Consortium says sugar tax is not enough to tackle obesity in South Africa.

The proposed sugar tax legislation announced in former finance minister Pravin Gordhan’s budget speech earlier this year was meant to tackle the high levels of sugar-related obesity but academics are less than convinced that the tax will solve this issue.

“Sugar is the problem but not the only problem,” says Dr Nellie Myburgh, a senior health researcher at the Wits Health Consortium.

In her article South Africa needs more than a sugar tax to get to the bottom of obesity, she noted that the World Health Organisation reports 26,8% of the South African population is obese, making this the highest rate of obesity in Africa. Myburgh’s article, published on The Conversation Africatouches on several factors which are responsible for developing obesity such as sleep deprivation, psychological problems as well as a sedentary lifestyle and the dependence on technology.

Myburgh told Wits Vuvuzela that obesity is the result of fatty deposits called glycogen, stored around the body that should get used up when they body is starved. “Because food is always available for most people, these fatty deposits do not get used up,” said Myburgh.

The sugar tax debacle raises some concern for the health and well-being of students too. “Students are still very young, still growing and therefore their health could become a ticking time bomb if not addressed,” said Myburgh.

The South African National Department of Health hopes to bring down obesity by 10% by 2020 as a result of the proposed sugar tax. However, not all students are convinced. Kelvin Tubadi, a second year BA politics student, worries that sugar tax will not do enough. “It’s a good idea but there are more problems that we should be looking at here,” says Tubadi.

Jack Thenga, a second year BA law student raised concerns about student budgets. “All that it’s going to do is make things more expensive for us, that would be a problem too,” said Thenga.

Myburgh says that students and the university can play a very important role in tackling obesity in the country. “It is a two way process, students need to get more involved in the different programs that the university offers and the university needs to make sure it looks after its students,” she said.