Columns 16.8.2018 08:40 am

You can’t tax people thin

Picture: iStock

Picture: iStock

It probably comes as no surprise to most of us that government’s sugar tax isn’t making much impact.

One of the favourite tactics of a government is to try to use legislation to engineer social change, rather than using education and awareness, which are far more effective ways of altering behaviour.

So, it comes as no surprise that nutritionists say there appears to be no noticeable reduction in individual sugar intake in South Africa, despite the government’s introduction, earlier this year, of a “sugar tax”.

The tax was intended to increase the prices of the oft-cited culprits in booming obesity rates: soft drinks and fast foods.

That there has been no appreciable decrease in consumption of such products should prove to the government that the tax is not working – and that it should be reconsidered or scrapped.

But, we all know that a government seldom gives up a stream of income. So, our problem with obesity has not been slowed.

According to a report published earlier this year, our children are becoming obese at a faster rate than their counterparts in the United States, the acknowledged junk food and obesity capital of the world.

The solution, nutritionists and health experts have suggested, is to tackle the problem of weight gain at the beginning of the chain, with serious education programmes that start in primary school.

Children should be made aware, from the earliest age, that the decisions about what they eat will have ramifications for the rest of their lives.

A way of using taxpayers’ money to combat the epidemic might also be to subsidise the production and sales of fresh fruit and vegetables.

At the same time, government should encourage people to exercise more.

But the biggest push should be on education and awareness. Knowledge is the most powerful weapon in the fight against obesity.

 

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