The potential impact of a 20% tax on sugar-sweetened beverages on obesity in South African adults: a mathematical model

PLoS One. 2014 Aug 19;9(8):e105287. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0105287. eCollection 2014.


Background/objectives: The prevalence of obesity in South Africa has risen sharply, as has the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs). Research shows that consumption of SSBs leads to weight gain in both adults and children, and reducing SSBs will significantly impact the prevalence of obesity and its related diseases. We estimated the effect of a 20% tax on SSBs on the prevalence of and obesity among adults in South Africa.

Methods: A mathematical simulation model was constructed to estimate the effect of a 20% SSB tax on the prevalence of obesity. We used consumption data from the 2012 SA National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and a previous meta-analysis of studies on own- and cross-price elasticities of SSBs to estimate the shift in daily energy consumption expected of increased prices of SSBs, and energy balance equations to estimate shifts in body mass index. The population distribution of BMI by age and sex was modelled by fitting measured data from the SA National Income Dynamics Survey 2012 to the lognormal distribution and shifting the mean values. Uncertainty was assessed with Monte Carlo simulations.

Results: A 20% tax is predicted to reduce energy intake by about 36 kJ per day (95% CI: 9-68 kJ). Obesity is projected to reduce by 3.8% (95% CI: 0.6%-7.1%) in men and 2.4% (95% CI: 0.4%-4.4%) in women. The number of obese adults would decrease by over 220 000 (95% CI: 24 197-411 759).

Conclusions: Taxing SSBs could impact the burden of obesity in South Africa particularly in young adults, as one component of a multi-faceted effort to prevent obesity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Beverages / economics*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Dietary Sucrose / economics*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Economic
  • NADP Transhydrogenases
  • Obesity / prevention & control*
  • South Africa
  • Taxes*
  • Young Adult


  • Dietary Sucrose
  • NADP Transhydrogenases

Grant support

This research was supported by grant PROP020911E from the International Development Research Center, Canada. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. URL: