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South Africa Health Promotion Levy Gains Presidential Assent

Vital Strategies urges full implementation of this obesity prevention policy on April 1, 2018

(New York, USA) – Vital Strategies welcomes the news that South Africa’s Health Promotion Levy has passed its final regulatory hurdle, after 22 months of debate culminated in President Jacob G. Zuma giving presidential assent for the Bill. A levy on sugary drinks was first proposed on February 24, 2016, in Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s 2016 Budget speech. This life-saving policy, which is expected to be implemented on April 1, 2018, will increase the cost of most sugary drinks by an average of 11 percent.

“We applaud the President and Parliamentarians for listening to South Africans’ concern about obesity-related harm. This Levy will help to reduce the consumption of sugary drinks and raise revenues for important government programs,” said José Luis Castro, Vital Strategies’ President and CEO. “We also congratulate health advocates on their part in this victory. They successfully built public and political support for policy change. This helped Parliamentarians to reject industry interference designed to stop this bill. We urge other countries to follow South Africa’s lead and act to reduce the harms of sugary drinks.”

South Africans are among the top 10 consumers of sugary drinks in the world (PLOS ONE, 2015). This is contributing to increased rates of obesity and diabetes, negatively impacting the health and life expectancy of South Africa’s people. StatsSA this year confirmed that diabetes is the country’s second biggest killer after tuberculosis. To reduce the consumption of sugary drinks and related health harms, the Health Promotion Levy will be applied to non-alcoholic drinks (still or aerated) with added sugar or flavoring, syrups and other concentrates, cocoa powder and malt extract, and non-alcoholic beer. The Levy was originally proposed to raise prices by 20 percent. This would have delivered even greater health benefits.

South Africa now joins 30 other countries around the world in introducing or passing legislation to implement a levy on sugary drinks. Evidence from Mexico, where a similar levy led to a 9.5 percent decline in sales of sugary drinks, strongly suggests that the Health Promotion Levy will help to reduce consumption of sugary drinks and lead to longer term improvements in public health. The Levy also will encourage manufacturers to introduce clear, accurate nutritional labelling on sugary drinks, by automatically applying the highest levy to sugary drinks without nutritional labels. In addition to improving health by reductions in consumption, the government can use the Levy to fund public programs.

Notes to Editors

Vital Strategies’ work in South Africa

Vital Strategies provided technical assistance to the Healthy Living Alliance (Heala), a health advocacy group in South Africa, supporting a highly effective communications campaign that provided consumers with accurate information about the real health harms of sugary drinks. A July 2017 survey found a significant increase in support for the Levy over the past year, during the campaign period. Three-quarters of adult South Africans believe that government is doing the right thing when it designs, implements and enforces policy to discourage the consumption of sugary beverages and junk foods. Seventy percent of respondents approve of the Levy, provided the revenue collected is invested in programs to benefit the public.

Vital Strategies’ global work in obesity prevention

Vital Strategies provides technical assistance to cities and countries around the world to change public attitudes and behaviors and build support for obesity prevention policies. To date, Vital Strategies has supported obesity prevention efforts in Brazil, Colombia, Jamaica, Mexico, and South Africa. Vital Strategies’ team of global experts in strategic communication, policy advocacy, and research and evaluation supports local partners advocating for policy change, building local capacity, optimizing effectiveness and growing the evidence base for obesity prevention initiatives. Strategic mass media campaigns implemented to date have been designed to warn consumers about the health harms of sugary drinks and junk foods among children and adults and to build support for taxes on sugary beverages, bans on junk food marketing that targets children, and clear nutritional labelling.

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. Our team combines evidence-based strategies with innovation to help develop and implement sound public health policies, manage programs efficiently, strengthen data systems, conduct research, and design strategic communication campaigns for policy and behavior change. To find out more, please visit or Twitter @VitalStrat.

For further information or to arrange an interview with a Vital Strategies public health expert, please contact