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Taxation of sugar-sweetened beverages a win-win for Ghana’s public health strategy

Ghana has passed a tax bill on sugar-sweetened beverages to reduce the country’s high sugar consumption and associated health problems. The move follows a successful advocacy campaign from a coalition of Ghanaian public health actors.
Two men, one holding a microphone, hand a large envelope to two other men in front of a small group of people holding signs related to sugary drinks.
Advocating for Health Project
Members of the Advocating for Ghana’s Health Coalition present a petition to Ghanaian parliamentarians on Nov. 15, 2022 in Accra, Ghana.

The tax bill was approved by Ghana’s parliament on March 31, 2023 and signed into law by the country’s president three days later. It imposes a 20 percent tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, including flavoured juice drinks, sweetened tea, sodas and energy drinks.

Actioned by the Government of Ghana as part of measures to reduce impacts of such beverages on public health, the tax bill makes Ghana one of hundreds that have implemented the WHO-recommended intervention to help prevent non-communicable diseases (NCDs). 

This important policy action follows a comprehensive campaign by the Advocating for Ghana’s Health Coalition, which asserted that a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks would increase individual healthcare savings and promote the health of Ghanaians, especially children. The tax is expected to have positive impacts for the general population of Ghana, which, like most African countries, is experiencing increases in nutrition-related NCDs. 

The coalition, which is led by the University of Ghana’s School of Public Health, comprises various groups, including the Healthier Diets for Healthy Lives Project, and is supported by the Catalyzing Change for Healthy and Sustainable Food Systems initiative, co-funded by IDRC, and the Rockefeller Foundation. Other members include Advocating for Health Project, the Ghana Public Health Association and Ghana Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The coalition has argued that sugar-sweetened beverages contain little or no nutrients and are implicated in health problems. 

“[T]he Government of Ghana has manifold opportunities and a responsibility to use public health policies to protect, promote and assure the health of its citizens. One such opportunity is the enactment and implementation of this tax,” said coalition leader Amos Laar, professor of public health and nutrition at the University of Ghana.  

The cost of sugar consumption 

Sugar-sweetened drinks are a significant contributor to overweight and obesity. Children suffering from these conditions have an elevated probability of developing other diet-related diseases later in life, such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension and stroke.  

Ghanaian researchers recently estimated the direct healthcare costs associated with obesity in the older adult Ghanaian population: compared with healthy-weight adults, overweight and obesity resulted in 75 percent and 159 percent more in-patient admissions, respectively.  

The average healthcare cost per healthy-weight adult was USD35 (CAD47) per admission, compared with USD78 (CAD105) for overweight adults and USD132 (CAD177) for obese adults. The Government of Ghana was therefore spending a staggering fee for highly expensive — yet preventable —health conditions. 

The coalition has urged the public to drastically reduce their intake of such drinks and to drink water instead. Other awareness-raising efforts have involved training local journalists on the relationship between unhealthy diets and non-communicable diseases so they can help spread messages and inspire behaviour change. 

Learn more about the Catalyzing Change for Healthy and Sustainable Food Systems initiative