Sugar Addiction: A Growing Concern in Botswana

High Consumption Raises Health Risks and Economic Burden



Botswana, like many countries worldwide, is grappling with the alarming levels of sugar and also salt addiction among its population. Neither are even nutritious or necessary in most uses – yet most of us are addicted.

Health risks
According to recent statistics, the excessive consumption of these addictive substances poses significant health risks and puts a strain on the nation’s economy. Studies reveal that sugar and salt hold cultural significance in African diets, including Botswana, where
traditional foods often incorporate these ingredients. However, with the growing availability of processed foods and sugary beverages, there has been a drastic shift in consumption patterns.

In Botswana alone, it is estimated that per capita consumption of sugar has risen to an average of forty-seven kilograms per year, while salt consumption exceeds the  recommended daily intake by a significant margin.

Health implications

This addiction to sugar and salt has dire health implications. The rising prevalence of obesity, diabetes, and hypertension among Batswana can be attributed, at least in part, to high sugar and salt consumption. World Health Organisation statistics in 2016 indicated
that 6 percent of Batswana are affected by diabetes, and hypertension rates (stage 1 abnormal blood pressure) have surged to approximately 36 percent of the population, this percentage is likely to have increased in the absence of a clear strategy to reduce them.

Strain on health care system These health conditions not only burden individuals and families but also place an enormous strain on healthcare systems and national resources. Both are mostly avoidable with a null negative impact. The economic impact of this addiction is equally concerning. The annual expenditure on sugar and salt-related products in Botswana surpasses millions of pula, straining household budgets and diverting funds that could be allocated to other essential needs.

Africans spend more than $110 million on confectionary, excluding sugary drinks and other sweet products such as biscuits and cakes. The market for sweet drinks and confectionery continues to expand rapidly, with a projected growth rate of 7.86 percent in the coming years.

Policy recommendations
Recognizing the urgency of addressing this issue, health experts and policymakers have various options. One potential policy recommendation is the implementation of a sugar tax, similar to those in place in South Africa and several countries worldwide. Such a measure aims to discourage excessive consumption and generate revenue for health initiatives. Additionally, stricter regulations on the placement of confectionery items by checkouts are being proposed in the EU, as this marketing tactic often contributes to  impulsive purchases. Introducing a sugar tax has emerged as a promising policy option globally and can be adopted in Botswana. Levying additional charges on sugary beverages, high-sugar products, and confectionery items incentivises reduced consumption and generates revenue for public health initiatives.

Similar measures implemented in other countries have demonstrated success in reducing sugar intake and promoting healthier choices. Implementing clear and informative nutritional labelling regulations is vital. Mandating the inclusion of visible and easily understandable labels that display the sugar and salt content on food and beverage packaging helps consumers make informed decisions about their purchases. Such labelling requirements empower individuals in Botswana to prioritize healthier options and manage their sugar intake more effectively.

Public education
Launching comprehensive public education campaigns is crucial to raising awareness about the health risks associated with excessive sugar consumption. Tailored initiatives should target schools, community centres, and media platforms to ensure wide-reaching
impact. Education programs should emphasize the importance of balanced diets, the risks of overconsumption, and practical tips for reducing sugar and salt intake in everyday life. Stricter regulations should be enforced to limit the marketing of high-sugar and high-salt products to children. Advertising practices that target vulnerable populations, including minors, should be closely monitored and regulated to discourage unhealthy consumption
patterns. Implementing age-appropriate advertising restrictions can significantly contribute to reducing the influence of marketing on children’s dietary

Responsible practices
Collaborating with food manufacturers and suppliers is essential to reformulate products, reduce sugar, and salt content. Encouraging industry stakeholders to adopt responsible practices, promote healthier alternatives, and develop innovative low-sugar and low-
salt products can transform the food landscape in Botswana and Africa as a whole. By prioritizing these policy recommendations, Botswana can take significant strides in combating sugar and salt addiction and promoting healthier lifestyles.

Stakeholder collaborations
Multi-stakeholder collaborations, including government bodies, health organizations, industry partners, and civil society, are vital for effective implementation. Together, these efforts will create an environment that supports healthier choices, reduces the burden
of related health conditions, and paves the way for a brighter, healthier future for Batswana.

The points made in this item are exemplified by the disconcerting paradox of a prominent health food chain in South Africa, renowned for promoting wholesome nutrition,  succumbing to the temptation of lining its checkout queues with sugary confectionery, cannot be overlooked. The image shows about 100 m of shelving dedicated to sugary foods with ironic sign saying ‘health foods’. This serves as a stark reminder of the pervasive influence of the sugar addiction epidemic, even within business that advocate for healthier lifestyles. The presence of such products in a health food shop checkout not only undermines the principles and values it claims to uphold but also perpetuates the very problem it should be combating. It sends mixed messages to consumers, particularly
children, who may associate the store with health and well-being, only to be enticed by unhealthy options at the last moment.

Strict regulations
This paradox highlights the urgent need for stricter regulations and greater accountability across the food industry. It underscores the importance of not only individual responsibility but also the collective effort required to combat the grip of sugar and also salt addiction. As consumers, we must remainvigilant, making informed choices and advocating for a food environment that aligns with our health goals. Addressing this contradiction within the health food industry should serve as a catalyst for broader  action. Let us seize this moment to champion comprehensive policies, education campaigns, and industry collaborations that promote a healthier, more transparent food landscape—one that supports our well-being and empowers individuals to break free from the chains of sugar and salt addiction