A healthy economy needs a healthy population.

A stunted population means a stunted economy. It is a fact that food justice and economic development go hand in hand. The unbelievable cost of healthcare imposed by the upsurge of non-communicable diseases has a detrimental effect on our already struggling economy. And it is about to get worse.  

 According to the Global Obesity Observatory, in 2019, “the economic impact of overweight and obesity was estimated to be US$5.5billion. This is equivalent to US$95 per capita and 1.6% of GDP. Direct costs and indirect costs made up 44.8% and 55.2% of total costs, respectively.” 

 By 2060, the Global Obesity Observer estimates that economics impacts are predicted to increase to US$27.5billion. This is equivalent to US$352 per capita and 2.6% of GDP and represents a five-fold increase in total costs. 

Why we need a healthy economy.

 Reducing morbidity and mortality for all South Africans is an urgent matter that requires an approach that transcends access to health services. Strong decisive public policy is needed to address the broader social determinants of health by designing and implementing interventions that improve people’s health more effectively than individual interventions within the health sector, explains Nzama Mbalati, Programmes Head of the Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA). 

 These include, but are not limited to, raising the Health Promotion Levy, also known as the sugar tax, from 11 percent to 20 percent.  

 The high consumption of unhealthy sugary drinks increases the risk of health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, tooth decay and obesity.  

 “SSB taxes were associated with reduced sugary drink intake in a low-income population within a middle-income country,” found the Taxed and untaxed beverage intake by South African young adults after a national sugar-sweetened beverage tax: A before-and-after study. 

Don’t let the industry win

 Instead of kowtowing to the demands of the sugar industry, HEALA is calling for decisive action from government to safeguard the health of the nation. The threat of job losses is a well-known tactic used by the sugar industry to stop government from making much needed decisions to safeguard the wellbeing of the country’s citizens.  

 “There is a deep historical roots of the South African sugar industry and its influence on dietary sugar consumption at the population level. The sugar industry is a prime example of a colonial activity shaping the economy, polity, penetration of sugar content into food products, and diets over an extended historical period. In the modern, and specifically the post-apartheid, period the sugar industry has proved resilient,” Mbalati says.  

 Currently, the South African Sugar Association estimates the local sugar industry to be worth an eyewatering R18 Billion. It is now time for government to put people over industry profits.  

STATEMENT: We can’t rely on food and beverage industry to safeguard our health

A cursory walk around the supermarket shows that South African shops are inundated with pre-packaged foods that are processed with high levels of added sugars, salt, and saturated fats. South African’s who want to make better health choices are thwarted by incomprehensible and food labels.  Nutrition illiteracy and the availability of these foods is wreaking havoc on the health of South Africans.

More than six out of 10 women above the age of 15 in South Africa are overweight or obese, putting them at risk of developing life-threatening illnesses, shows data from the most recent South African Demographic and Household in 2016. Overall, the World Health Organisation estimates that almost one in three South Africans were obese in 2016. About 13% of children in South Africa are also over weight – more than twice the global average.

Despite there being a strong need for increased nutrition literacy and easy to read labels that warn consumers that some of the food they are eating can be harmful to their health, recent research by PRICELESS SA at the University of Witwatersrand School of Public Health found that there is no evidence that voluntary actions by the food and beverage industry can safeguard public health.

Why government needs to step in

 According to the findings, “[w]hen governments do allow (voluntary actions) VAs and other forms of self-regulation to replace mandatory regulatory interventions, robust monitoring is required to ascertain whether these VAs are effective in improving food environments.

Despite clear, research based evidence that solid financial and regulatory interventions work well to improve food environments by limiting the amount of unhealthy foods flooding the food system, the food and beverage industry has hit back in favour of voluntary actions.

This is why The Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA) is calling for easy to read Front-of-pack labels. “High in” front-of-pack warning labels, which clearly identify products that are high in things like sugar, salt, saturated fat  — what experts call “nutrients of concern” — are the most effective at helping consumers spot unhealthy foods.

“The dominance of these unhealthy products in stores, incomprehensible food labels and aggressive advertising by the food industry undermine the consumers’ ability to choose healthier food options. FOPL will help raise awareness on unhealthy food, make it easy at a glance warning of unhealthy products and impower consumers to make informed decision on food they purchase,” explains Nzama Mbalati HEALA’s Head of Programmes.

At least 10 countries, including Brazil, Mexico and Chile, have already switched to front-of-package labelling or will in coming years. South Africa desperately needs to join this link. HEALA is asking concerned parents, caregivers, and ordinary citizens to join our call to The National Department of Health (NDoH) to open public comment for front-of-pack labels.

For more information, visit www.whatsinmyfood.org.za to get more information on how you can be a part of the cause, or add your voice by sending a WhatsApp to: 079 751 9751.

 Ends –

The Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA) is a coalition advancing food justice in South Africa. 

For interviews contact

Zukiswa Zimela

Communications Manager: HEALA



STATEMENT: Parents want to make healthy food choices for their children

Making healthy food choices is almost impossible when you do not know what is in the food you are eating.  

 When shown images of foods with warning labels, parents indicated that they would buy less foods high in nutrients of concern that were labelled as “high in sugar, sodium, saturated fat” and switch to non-labelled, healthier, foods. 

 This is according to an investigation [1] by researchers from the University of Limpopo, the University of Western Cape, and the University of North Carolina on parents’ food purchasing decisions and perceptions of unhealthy food.  

 Following global trends, South Africans are consuming increasing amount of ultra-processed foods. A quick trip to the grocery store shows that shelves are increasingly filled with pre-packaged foods which are often high in nutrients of concern such as in salt, sugar, and fat.  

 Nutrients of concern contribute to non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. Worryingly South Africans have a 51.9 per cent chance of dying from an NCD – diabetes, heart diseases and stroke being the most likely culprits – according to the NCD Countdown 2030. [2] South Africa has one of the highest prevalence rates of diabetes in sub-Saharan Africa. [3] 

 Parents looking to make better health choices for their families are bombarded by confusing and overly technical nutritional information buried at the back of the tins, boxes, and bottles at the store. Easy to read front-of-package labelling would translate the information consumers need to know into simple language.  

 The researchers noted that poor nutrition knowledge and affordability surfaced as one of the leading influencers of parental food selection. This study illustrated parents’ misconception about ultra-processed/unhealthy foods, where for the first time, they realized that these products were high in sugar.  

 “HIGH IN” front-of-pack warning labels, which clearly identify products that are high in things like sugar, salt, saturated fat, would help consumers easily spot unhealthy foods. 

 The Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA) believes that consumers have a right to know what is in the food they are eating. Easy to read front-of-pack warning labels could help consumers make better health choices.  

 We are asking concerned parents, caregivers, and ordinary citizens to join our call to The National Department of Health (NDoH) to release [for commentary] by signing this petition 

 Addressing non-communicable diseases needs legislative, regulatory and other measures agency to help save lives now. South Africa needs front-of-package labelling on its toolbox to help consumers make better choices and live healthier lives,” says HEALA Programmes Head, Nzama Mbalati. 

 For more information, visit www.whatsinmyfood.org.za to get more information on how you can be a part of the cause or add your voice by sending a WhatsApp to 079 751 9751. 

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[1] Bopape M, Taillie LS, Swart R (2022). Perceived effect of warning label on parental food purchasing and drivers of food selection among South African parents – an exploratory study. Frontiers in Nutrition, 10.3389/fpubh.2022.939937 


[2] https://defeat-ncd.org/new-reports-south-africans-now-most-likely-to-die-from-ncds/ 


[3] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/16089677.2021.1897227 


The Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA) is a coalition advancing food justice in South Africa.  


For interviews contact  

Zukiswa Zimela  

Communications Manager: HEALA