Tanzania: Obesity Fuels Rise in Non-Infectious Diseases

A NEW study conducted by the Economic and Social Research Foundation (ESRF) has shown that obesity cases are rising in Tanzania, increasing the risk of non-communicable diseases.

The study shows that if no action is taken this will impose heavy economic burden on individuals, families and the government.

The Economic and Social Research Foundation in their report following the research calls for urgent policy intervention by the government to arrest the trend it says has led to upsurge of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Apart from the ever rising death toll from the NCDs, individual patients incur medical and non-medical costs totalling 1,211.78 US dollars annually, on average, as well as indirect costs such as loss of income, according to the report.

The cost to the government of caring for NCD patients nearly doubled from 142.7 million dollars in 2015/16 to 280.6 million dollars in 2019/20.

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 diagnosed overweight or obese.

The research by the policy think tank found that five percent of Tanzania's adult population had excessive weight in 2008, but this rose to 8.4 percent in 2016, whereas deaths from NCDs accounted for a third of all deaths. Obesity was reported to be higher among females (12.7 per cent) than men (4.1 per cent) and it affects the age group 45-54 years most.

Lack of community awareness on NCDs and the government's concentration on curative care services rather than preventive measures is blamed for the continued growth of the diseases.

The study led by Professor FortunataSongoraMakene, ESRF's Head of Strategic Research and Publications Department, found that 97 percent of the government's total health service budget was spent on caring for NCD patients and only three percent went to management of the diseases.

Obesity is the accumulation of excessive body fat, which is largely the result of habitual consumption of high caloric foods and drinks. The ESRF research, sponsored by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada, built its analysis on the already established strong effect of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages (SSBs) on weight gain and found them strongly related.

Obese people are in turn vulnerable to developing non-communicable ailments, such as cardiovascular complications, diabetes and various cancers.

To discourage the consumption of SSBs, in addition to calling for multi sectoral measures to promote healthy eating and physical activity, the study report recommends an increase on the excise tax 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 per cent overall.

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 452bn/- annually.

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