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Why that excessive weight should be cause for concern

Thursday July 08 2021
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By The Citizen Reporter

Dar es Salaam. The number of Tanzanians who are becoming obese (grossly fat or overweight) is rising, increasing costs associated with the treatment of non-communicable diseases(NCDs), a new study shows.

The study by the Economic and Social Research Foundation (ESRF) revealed that, apart from the rise in deaths, obesity, etc, NCDs see to individual patients incurring medical and non-medical costs totalling $1,211.78 annually, on average.

The patients also incur indirect costs, including loss of income as they spend a good chunk of their time treating NCDs like cardiovascular complications, diabetes and various cancers.

Similarly, the amount that the government spends in caring for NDC patients rose by 97 percent during the period between the 2015/16 and 2019/20 financial years.

Figures published in the report show that, while the government spent a total of $142.7 million in taking care of NDC patients during the 2015/16 financial year, the amount rose to $280.6 million in the 2019/20 financial year.

According to the study, five percent of Tanzania’s adult population were obese in 2008.

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This, however rose to 8.4 percent in 2016. NCDs accounted for one-third of all deaths in 2016, the study reveals.

Obesity cases were higher among females (12.7 percent) than men (4.1 percent), mostly of the population aged between 45 and 54 years.

Led by ESRF’s head of strategic research and publications department, Prof Fortunata Songora Makene, the study blames the lack of awareness programmes on NCDs as a key factor in the rise in cases.

It found that 97 percent of the government’s total health services budget was spent on caring for NCD patients while only three percent went to management of the diseases.

Sponsored by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada, the ESRF study built its analysis on the already established strong effect of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages (SSBs) on weight gain - and found them strongly related. To discourage the consumption of SSBs, in addition to calling for multi-sectoral measures to promote healthy eating and physical activity, the study recommends an increase in the excise duty charged, equivalent to 20 percent of the current price of sugar-sweetened soft drinks and juices, as a policy intervention measure.

“The SSB tax already exists. The proposed reform is that of increasing the tax rate rather than introducing a new tax,” says the report.

The study found that middle-aged adults consumed high intake of sugary drinks, concluding that imposition of tax would help lower the intake, thereby reducing obesity prevalence by 6.6 percent overall.

The study calls upon urgent policy intervention by the government to arrest the trend.

The researchers recommend consultation with SSB manufacturers, consumers and other stakeholders on the proposal to ensure inclusive implementation.

The report gives evidence that the fiscal policy intervention has proved effective in many countries, including South Africa, India, Brazil, Denmark, France, United Kingdom and Bulgaria.

This is the first such study in Eastern Africa and second only to one carried out in South Africa on the continent.

Raising the excise tax on sugar-sweetened drinks by 20 percent of the price would not only complement other measures to reduce obesity but will also boost government revenues by an additional Sh452 billion annually.

Obesity and NCDs are a global concern. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 39 percent of the global adult population, or 1.9 billion people, were overweight in 2016, while 13 percent (650 million people) were obese.

Some 41 million children under five years were also either overweight or obese.