Are South Africans the 8th highest sugar consumers in the world?

The tax involves an extra charge of 2.29 cents per gramme of sugar in every sugar-sweetened drink (which includes soft drinks, sugar-sweetened fruit drinks, sports and energy drinks, vitamin water drinks, sweetened iced teas and lemonades), as we explained in a previous report.
Those for and against the tax have been vocal. A Bhekisisa article recently quoted the director of the Priceless health think-tank at the University of the Witwatersrand as saying a sugar tax “is one of the best things that you can do as part of a series of steps to deal with obesity”. Professor Karen Hofman added: “South Africans are the 8th highest sugar consumers globally. Such a tax will cut the consumption of sugary drinks, just as regulation cut tobacco use.”

What do we know about South Africans’ sweet tooth?

Health policy economist Dr Evan Blecher told Africa Check data from the US department of agriculture on sugar supply is probably as good as it gets.

“There are not many other and better sources, since surveillance instruments are slow at catching up in this space,” Blecher told Africa Check. He added that nutritional surveys are needed to “to crack consumption patterns of consumers” but that there are not many of these available.

For example, South Africa’s major nutritional survey, the 2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, scored individuals’ sugar intake as low, moderate or high but did not estimate how much sugar they consumed in total.

Sugar in packaged food & soft drinks

Organisations that track the supply side of sugar, such as the International Sugar Organisation and the US department of agriculture, do not factor in the sugar content of imported products.

An indication of sugar intake from packaged food and soft drinks is supplied by Euromonitor International, a global market research company. The company analyses the nutrient profiles of 75,000 food and drink brands in 54 countries worldwide, including sugar and fat.

Coupled with sales data, Euromonitor calculates average consumption per person in each of the 54 countries, a public sector advisor at Euromonitor, Ruth Bysshe, told Africa Check.

Bysshe said Euromonitor’s latest data shows that South Africans consume, on average, 47.5 g of sugar per person per day from the packaged food and soft drinks that the company monitors. This placed South Africa 32nd out of 54 countries.

Conclusion: Claim about South Africans’ sugar intake unlikely to be correct

The table on which a South African health researcher based her claim that South Africans’ sugar consumption is the 8th highest globally was not complete.

Data from the global sugar industry body suggests the country lies between 50th and 60th place. However, as this body tracks the production and trade in sugar, we cannot say for sure that it represents actual human intake.

One reason is that imported and exported sugar-containing products are not reflected in the data. A company that monitors the sale of packaged food and soft drinks told Africa Check that South Africans consume on average 47.5 g of sugar – or 180 calories – per person per day through the products they look at. (Note: The World Health Organisation recommends that sugar intake be less than 10% of someone’s total energy intake. In South Africa, that is 202 calories based on the recommended calorie intake for women and 250 calories for men.)

In the absence of nutritional surveys that are comparable across countries, we cannot say for sure where South Africans rank when it comes to  sugar intake. However, the available data suggests it is much lower than 8th in the world.

*Article researched and supplied by Africa Check. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter for more groundbreaking stories.

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