World Hunger Day — a chance for South Africa to vote for food justice

South Africa faces a nutritional crisis of a double burden of under and overnutrition. Over half a million South African households that have children under five years old face hunger every day.  This has led to a quarter of our children being stunted (an indicator of chronic malnutrition).

Stunting does not only disadvantage the individual into adulthood but also ultimately affects national development due to its health and economic consequences. Children who are stunted at two years old are likely to be stunted as adults. They are also at high risk of developing chronic diseases and obesity in adulthood (let’s not forget that 1 in 8 South African children under five years are already overweight or obese).

As these kids’ brains have not developed properly, a magnitude of intellectual issues persist such as reduced cognitive ability, fewer schooling years achieved, poor attainment of job opportunities, and lower wages later in life.  This proposes many economic consequences for individuals, households, and our country, including higher healthcare costs.

Read the rest of the article in Daily Maverick.

Chew On This Episode 1: How is Big Food violating our right to nutritious food?

South Africa suffers from high levels of hunger, food insecurity, and obesity — all of which are consequences of the country’s broken food system. It is only by fixing South Africa’s broken food system will the country be able to guarantee everyone equitable access to affordable, nutritious food. This webinar explores the role Big Food plays in our ability to access nutritious food and how evidence based policies can address these issues.

WEBINAR: My Health, My Right: The Importance of regulating the food environment to eliminate over and under nutrition

HEALA cordially invites you to our upcoming webinar scheduled for April 24 at 15.30 SAST. The webinar titled “My Health, My Right: The Importance of regulating the food environment to eliminate over and under nutrition” is aimed at highlighting the grim reality of the food environment in South Africa. Currently, the country is battling a double burden of over and under-nutrition.

Experts warn that Ultra-Processed Food consumption may be associated with a higher risk of obesity, overweight, and stunting in low and middle-income countries. New research by Dr. Tamryn Frank shows that low-income South African adults consume, on average, 40% of their calories from ultra-processed products. We live in a society where eight million children go hungry every day. Dr. Edzani Mphaphuli will discuss the dangers of stunting and malnutrition for the wellbeing of children throughout their lives.

HEALA’s Programmes Manager, Petronell Kruger, will speak about the need for evidence-based regulations to fix South Africa’s broken food system and guarantee everyone equitable access to affordable, nutritious food.

RSVP HERE

OP-ED: Government must take steps to end hunger in SA

Last month we commemorated 25 years of the SA constitution – a document that was supposed to usher in a generation of South Africans living in dignity, equality and freedom.

However, we see a dangerous dualism in SA: while eight million children go hungry every day and a quarter of all children are stunted, we also see that one in eight children is overweight.

According to statistics, these children will grow into a cohort of adults where every second person is obese. Being overweight or obese is a well-known driver of diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.

More than half of South Africans are dying of these diseases each year, which Stats SA has termed a “looming health crisis”. At first glance, the idea of a society where half of the population is overweight, while severe hunger persists seems dystopian, akin to the Hunger Games, where the rich gorge themselves and the poor fight to survive.

READ MORE: This World Obesity Day We Urgently Need To Confront The Scourge Of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) In South Africa.

But the reality is that in individual households, both co-exist. Low income households are more likely to purchase energy dense, nutritionally poor food, which contributes to weight gain.

Strong evidence has emerged that food companies that sell low nutrition products target poorer families through marketing and retail outlet placement – the “double burden of malnutrition”.

Human rights are the idea that human beings are entitled to certain protections. After World War 2, the first modern international instrument setting out these rights was created – the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This article was published on SowetanLive on the 4th of April 2024. Click HERE to read the full oped.

Press Statement: How we need to think about the right to food this Human Rights Day

Following 30 years of democracy, South Africans are facing a devastating crisis of under and over nutrition with staggering levels of non-communicable diseases. The health of the nation is tied to the ability of ordinary South Africans to realise their right to a healthy life. The Constitution recognizes the right to health and food, and incorporates principles from international treaties which places a duty on states to prevent non-communicable diseases.

A recent study found that South Africans are consuming an excessive amount of ultra-processed food, which is tied to poor health outcomes such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. The study shows troubling trends for low-income South Africans: unhealthy ultra-processed foods are a big part of their diets (40%) and younger populations are increasingly shifting towards more unhealthy food that are high in sugar, salt, and saturated fat.

The Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA) believes that South Africans have a right to know what’s in their food, and mandatory ront of package warning labels (FOPWL)  are one way to provide information on which products are high in nutrients of concern. Implementing FOPWL as soon as possible can help to reduce the portion of South Africans’ diets, which is ultra-processed.

“We need policies to help South Africans eat less unhealthy food. Interventions like the proposed front-of-pack warning label, which will give consumers information if the food they are eating contains too many ‘bad’ ingredients, are cost-effective and empowering ways to change eating habits. Taxes on products like sodas are a double win – more public funds and less sugar in our already diabetic-prone society,” says HEALA Programmes Manager Petronell Kruger.

HEALA has been calling for access to good nutrition. Policies are needed to guarantee fair access, availability, and affordability of healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, particularly for low-income populations to make sure more South Africans are not suffering from hunger. Revenue raised from the Health Promotion Levy (which target sodas) could be allocated to provide subsidies on healthy foods.

Because government policy forms a crucial part of South Africa’s food system, HEALA believes that hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition are policy choices and government needs to play its part in protecting ordinary South Africans.

About HEALA: 

HEALA is a coalition of civil society organisations that advocates for equitable access to affordable and nutritious food for all in South Africa.

For interview requests please call 

Zukiswa Zimela, Communications Manager HEALA

Zukiswa[at]heala.org | +2710 825 4403

This World Obesity Day we urgently need to confront the scourge of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in South Africa.

Deaths from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are surging worldwide. In South Africa, deaths from NCDs increased by almost 60 percent from 1997 to 2018. Urgent action is needed. We know that we can’t solve the problem of NCDs with isolated, small and convenient interventions in individual lifestyles. The Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA) is calling for a package of bold interventions with a systemic overview of the issue of obesity.

Research shows that an estimated 1 in 8 South African children are overweight which is double the global average. Experts warn that children experiencing overweight and obesity in early childhood run the risk of experiencing obesity as adults. Obesity is associated with other dangerous diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

One of the most urgent interventions needed to curtail the explosion of NCDs in South Africa is the regulation of the food environment. The government needs to strongly regulate the food environment in favour of consumers to curb the consumption of unhealthy food, which is often heavily marketed to South Africa’s poor.

HEALA is asking the government to urgently increase the Health Promotion Levy (HPL) on select sugar-sweetened beverages to 20 percent and include fruit juices in the HPL. Currently, the levy remains at a paltry 11% and has not seen a significant increase since it was introduced in 2018.

Secondly, the National Department of Health needs to speed up the adoption of effective front-of-package warning labels on unhealthy foods to help consumers make better choices and live healthier lives. Several studies have shown that people globally and in South Africa have trouble reading traditional nutritional labels.

“The food industry spends billions of rands every year to reach children with their product marketing. They also aggressively lobby against public health policies aimed at promoting good health. We know the food industry would not spend billions of Rands fighting public health interventions that are not effective,” says Acting Interim CEO Nzama Mbalati.

What we eat is one of the biggest contributors to obesity. According to this study, our modern diets of calorie-dense foods, sugar-sweetened beverages, and high-fat and high-carb foods have been linked to obesity.

“It is unfortunate that government perpetuates the notion that public health interventions should first and foremost have economic benefits. We believe that the people’s well-being and dignity should be enough of a reason to push forward with solid regulations,” Mbalati says.

Sporadic interventions on this issue will do nothing to bring us back from the brink of the NCD cliff, what we need are sustained, evidence-based actions that look at the entire food system and address all the systematic causes of obesity in the country.

ENDS

About HEALA:

HEALA is a coalition of civil society organisations advocating for equitable access to affordable, nutritious food in South Africa by building a more just food system.

For media interviews please contact 

Zukiswa Zimela Communications Manager HEALA

0745210652 | zukiswa@heala.org

HEALA is deeply disappointed with Finance Minister Enoch Gondwana’s failure to announce an increase of the Health Promotion Levy.

For years National Treasury has failed to increase the Health Promotion Levy (HPL), which not only contributes to the fiscus but also reduces the consumption of sugary drinks. This levy is a vital tool in South Africa’s fight against life threatening non communicable diseases.

Ordinary South Africans bear the burden of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Researchers have alerted us of the dangers of a high NCD burden. One study warns that “the implications for the current situation are widespread: a future population with deteriorated physical and mental health, presenting with co-morbidities that render these individuals more susceptible to infectious diseases”.

Treasury’s continued failure to act to protect ordinary South African’s against industry interest shows it’s lack of commitment to stopping and reversing the tsunami of non-communicable diseases in South Africa. The Finance minister has once again failed South Africans by refusing to increase the HPL to 20% or at least announce the implementation of annual inflation-related increases of this lifesaving intervention that has been shown to work.

HEALA believes that the government is doing a disservice to any efforts to curtail the avalanche of NCD’s in the country by allowing the sugar industry to use the HPL as a scapegoat for its ongoing failure. We will continue to hold treasury accountable in implementing pro-people policies that put people’s health at the forefront.

ENDS

 HEALA is a coalition of civil society organisations advocating for equitable access to affordable, nutritious food in South Africa by building a more just food system.

 For media interviews please contact

Zukiswa Zimela Communications Manager HEALA

0745210652 | zukiswa@heala.org

OPINION: Let’s be upfront on front-of-pack labelling

By Nzama Mbalati and Zukiswa Zimela

It is really difficult to read food labels. What is trans-fat? How is it different from saturated fat? Why is sodium in milligrams instead of grams? Is it good for me?

That is, of course, if you even see the label on the back of the package.

On April 21, 2023, the National Department of Health published R3337, putting forward a draft regulation to introduce front-of-pack labelling in South Africa.

The draft regulation aims to provide easy-to-understand information on the front of packaged food to help consumers make healthy purchasing decisions.

This type of labelling has been incorporated successfully into several other countries and has been shown to help consumers better understand what they are eating.

The draft regulations also propose introducing restrictions on how foods can be marketed when those foods are deemed unhealthy.

The restrictions specifically aim to restrict techniques used to entice children to purchase and eat unhealthy food – an important measure as children are more vulnerable to persuasive marketing practices.

The draft regulation seems to be a no-brainer: more people will understand what is in food, and children will be less likely to be manipulated into making unhealthy eating decisions.

Especially in light of the worrying revelation early last week by Statistics South Africa that non-communicable diseases – diseases often associated with poor diets – have increased by 58 percent in the last two decades.

However, there has been staunch opposition from the food industry, and several red-herring arguments have been advanced.

We provide the following clarification to help the public understand the new proposed draft regulations.

Food producers will have fair use of their trademarks

The food industry argues that the restriction in the regulations aimed to remove misleading product descriptors “arbitrarily” deprive producers of their intellectual property rights.

First, the Trade Mark Act, the law regulating the protection of trademarks in South Africa, already contains a list of criteria limiting the use of trademarks, including allowing other laws to restrict trademarks or prescribing that marks which are confusing or misleading do not attract legal protection.

Second, food producers register multiple variations of their trademarks and will not face significant trade implications should a variation fall foul of the law.

As an example, we searched the Companies and Intellectual Property online database for trademarks affiliated with a popular soda brand in South Africa and found 60 different trademark results.

The regulations are deemed successful internationally The World Health Organization has called for front-of-pack labelling as a key consumer nutrition literacy intervention to promote healthy diets.

While it is very difficult to show how a policy intervention like a front-of-pack label can improve overall dietary choices, preliminary evidence exists (from Chile and more broadly), and strong evidence shows that the information-imparting objective is effective.

Additionally, the importance of the attached marketing restrictions to protect children has been proven, as studies show a strong link between unhealthy food marketing and childhood obesity.

Consumers should know that food contains ‘artificial sweeteners’

Evidence suggests that providing a warning label on excess sugar can lead consumers to unknowingly substitute sugar-sweetened beverages with alternative sweetened beverages (beverages containing artificial sweeteners).

The safety of artificial sweeteners is still debated.

The warning label is intended to be a consumer information intervention and warning consumers, especially parents, allows consumers to make a decision on appropriate artificial sweetener intake given the risk of allergic reaction, impact on diet for patients with diabetes, potential impact on long term food preferences and emerging evidence on the risk of cancer.

The label will not make it more difficult to import or export food

All countries have variations in food safety and labelling standards and require different procedures to meet local laws. There is a definite trend towards introducing front-of-pack labelling, and food producers seek regulatory harmonisation, endorsing FOPL policies to best achieve this goal.

The food industry will unfairly lose profits

Some food producers argue that they will lose profit because consumers will not buy foods with the warning labels – that is the point!

People will always eat – having people eat healthier foods should encourage food producers to make better alternatives available to the public. Corporate profits can never be more important than public health.

* Nzama Mbalati is the programmes manager at the Healthy Living Alliance (Heala).

* Zukiswa Zimela is the communications manager at Heala.

This oped was first published on IOL on the 9th of November 2023

This World Heart Day, the Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA) is calling on the government to take the health of South Africans to heart.

One in 3 South Africans suffer from some form of cardiovascular disease and heart disease and hypertension are in  listed in top ten causes of death in the country. A 2020 study  published in the European Heart Journal – Quality of Care and Clinical Outcomes journal highlighted poor diet as one of the leading contributors to heart disease deaths around the world.

The over consumption of an unhealthy diet is one of the leading causes of death for millions of people around the world.  Now more than ever, South Africa needs strong evidence based regulations to protect us from life threatening noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease.

Pre-packaged foods and beverages, high in salt, sugar and saturated fat have increasingly become readily available in virtually every community around the world, with South African shops inundated with these pre-packaged foods that are processed with high levels of added sugars, salt, and saturated fats. Research has found these nutrients are connected to increased obesity and chronic nutrition-related diseases.

“More than six million deaths [globally] could be avoided by reducing intake of processed foods, sugary beverages, trans and saturated fats, and added salt and sugar, “researchers found.

Front of pack warning labels are among the tools recommended by the World Health Organisation aimed at reducing the consumption of foods high in salt, sugar and saturated fat. Earlier this year the National Department of Health (NDoH) released for public comment draft regulations on the implementation of mandatory front of pack warning labels. According to the proposed regulations, all foods and beverages that have added salt, sugar or saturated fat and fall within “high in” thresholds or contain any non-sugar sweetener will have a black and white triangle warning on them to alert consumers.

The country cannot afford a delay in the implementation of the mandatory front of pack warning labels regulations. HEALA is calling on key decision makers to prioritise the health of South Africans.

“We calling on the National Department of Health to lead by its own mission “to improve health status through the prevention of illness, disease and the promotion of healthy lifestyles, and to consistently improve the health care delivery system by focusing on access, equity, efficiency, quality and sustainability”,” says Nzama Mbalati, Programmes Manager at HEALA.

The consumption of sugar sweetened beverages has also been linked to an increased risk of heart diseases. In a bold move by the South African government, the country blazed a trail as the first African country to legalise a tax on sugary drinks, in order to reduce the consumption of these products. However, in a series of decisions which favour the sugar industry, including putting a moratorium on an increase of the tax until 2025, National Treasury has threatened the efficacy of the regulation and put people’s health at risk.

“Industry often uses its economic power, lobbying and marketing machinery, and manipulation of the media to discredit scientific research and influence government inaction in order to propagate the sale and distribution of its deadly products. We cannot allow the continuation of putting profits over people,” Mbalati says.

END

About HEALA’s advocacy work in South Africa:

HEALA is a coalition of civil society organisations advocating for equitable access to affordable, nutritious food in South Africa by building a more just food system. Because government policy forms a crucial part of the South Africa’s food system, HEALA believes that hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition are policy choices.

HEALA advances the right to food by advocating for more just food systems in South Africa. We do this by acting as a platform for organisations and communities to organise around the realisation of the right to affordable and nutritious food. Through our campaigns, we help amplify the voices of people on the ground to ensure that they are heard by those in power at a local, provincial and national level.

HEALA’s vision is a South Africa in which all people have equitable access to healthy food to unlock their full potential.

For more information about HEALA’s advocacy work, please visit: www.heala.org

Media Contact
Zukiswa Zimela, Communications Manager
zzimela@heala.org; 0745201652