Currently, in Ghana, sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) are very much available and affordable and may be replaced with water for some people. They have become a part of us; most people cannot finish a meal without drinking one. You will be surprised to know that teenagers and youth are the highest consumers of SSBs. Almost all youth gatherings are accompanied with varieties of sugar-sweetened beverages to choose from. A go-to snack for school children, students, workers and even people at home.
World Health Organization (WHO) defines SSBs as all beverages containing added sugars like brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose, corn syrup, honey, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, and sucrose as well as carbonated or non-carbonated soft drinks, liquid and powder concentrate, flavoured water, energy and sports drinks, ready-to-drink tea, ready-to-drink coffee, and flavoured milk drinks with almost no nutritional benefit.
It is estimated that there are about 8-12 teaspoons (33-50 grams) of sugar in the average 375 ml can of soft drink (Miller et al., 2019). Several studies have shown that excessive intake of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney diseases, non-alcoholic liver disease, tooth decay and cavities, and gout, a type of arthritis (Malik & Hu, 2014; Bomback et al., 2010).
WHO also stated that global cancer deaths are projected to increase from 7.4 million in 2004 to 11.8 million in 2030, and global cardiovascular deaths from 17.1 million in 2004 to 23.4 million in 2030. Non-Communicable Diseases are projected to become the commonest cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa by the year 2030. Most of the increase in NCDs is due to lifestyle changes such as decreasing physical activity and increasing consumption of unhealthy foods like sugar-sweetened beverages.
Research also shows that obesity/overweight has been recognized as an increasing public health problem that could significantly impact human resources, especially the young who represent the country’s future. SSBs have free added sugars which increase consumers’ calories and increase the risk of being overweight, obese, and related non-communicable diseases (cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases and some type of cancers) when taken in excess amounts. Adolescents and young adults are increasingly being affected due to sedentary lifestyle which is accompanied by excess sugar intake.
Limiting SSB intake can help individuals maintain a healthy weight and have healthy dietary patterns. To reduce the consumption of SSBs and curb their menace, the government should, by any means possible limit the availability and accessibility of SSBs, regulate their advertisements, ensure ready access to potable water, intensify nutrition education on more healthful alternatives to SSBs or put a tax on these sugar-sweetened beverages.
WHO recommends health-related taxes (evidence-based strategies) as best buys (cost-effective and feasible) for combating unhealthy diets such as SSBs, one of the main determinants of NCDs.
These taxes will lead to an increase in the prices which will deter people from consuming them in large quantities and generate revenue for the government, which can be used in healthcare facilities to treat obesity and Non-Communicable Diseases. This approach, which is the taxation of SSBs has been used in countries such as South Africa, Nigeria, USA, Mexico and many other countries.
We Youth Wing of the Advocating for Health (A4H) coalition are adding our voice to the call by public health advocates to the Government of Ghana to act now to protect the health of Ghanaians. We want the government to impose a tax on these SSBs to help reduce their consumption and as well as reduce obesity and related non-communicable diseases among the population, especially the youth.
By Selina Mantebea Tobil