Media Statement: No evidence that the Health Promotion Levy has led to job losses

Following the SA Canegrowers Association’s unsubstantiated claim that the Health Promotion Levy (HPL) has led to the loss of 16 000 jobs, the Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA) feels it is important to dispute the claim as baseless and unfounded. 

Researchers from SAMRC/Wits Centre for Health Economics and Decision Science, Priceless SA, used a single-group interrupted time series analyses using the Quarterly Labour Force Survey data from Statistics South Africa to find out how many jobs were lost due to the implementation of the HPL. The study, released in 2024 found no evidence of job losses due to the levy. 

The true cost of sugar consumption

The science is clear that the over-consumption of sugar in liquid form is highly dangerous for our health. Evidence shows that “Independent of the “empty” calories from sugary drinks, the sugars in sugary drinks alter the body’s metabolism, affecting insulin, cholesterol, and metabolites that cause high blood pressure and inflammation. These changes to the body increase the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, tooth decay, and liver disease.”  

The aim of the Health Promotion Levy (HPL) is to reduce local demand and consumption of refined white sugar and safeguard the health of all South Africans. 

South Africa is seeing an explosion of obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases like diabetes, and heart disease. An estimated 7 in 10 women and 1 in 3 men in the country are obese and overweight. South Africans cannot be forced to continue to consume high levels of sugar for the sake of the sugar industry. The same industry, which laments the so called effects of the HPL, has been rocked by numerous scandals of mismanagement and fraud.

Robbing Peter to pay Paul

While the SA Canegrowers Association misrepresents the truth, tax payers and the state are bearing the huge cost of overweight and obesity. A 2022 study from Priceless SA found that these diseases “are costing South Africa’s health system R33 billion (US$1.9bn) a year. This represents 15.38% of government health expenditure and is equivalent to 0.67% of GDP. Annual per person cost of overweight and obesity is R2,769.”

On the other hand, from its inception on 1 April 2018 to 31 March 2021, the HPL has generated R7.9 billion in cumulative revenue from domestically produced and imported products. Specifically, collections in 2018/19, 2019/20 and 2020/21 were R3.2 billion, R2.5 billion and R2.1 billion respectively.  An increase in the HPL to the recommended 20% could almost double the revenue collected by Treasury.

Pivoting to Biofuels

Times are changing. South Africa needs to join countries like India who have moved away from a consumption model to keep the industry afloat towards the production of ethanol for biofuel production. The sugar industry has been given two years to focus on diversification by the government. Currently there is been no proof that they have used that time in good faith.

Change will come

Obesity is a complex issue that requires a multipronged approach. Slowing down and reversing the trend will take some time. We cannot allow the trend to continue unabated. It is clear that the government urgently needs to put in place evidence-based solutions to get the process started, including increasing the levy to 20% and adding fruit juices in the HPL.

In less than a decade since its implementation the HPL has had positive results. Following the implementation of the HPL young adults in Langa in the Western Cape aged 18-39 years reported they drank 37% less sugar sweetened beverages and reduced sugar intake by nearly a third (31%). 

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

An increase in the Health Promotion Levy will not only reduce the consumption of unhealthy sugary drinks, but it can also be used to improve the health of the country’s children.

In anticipation of the upcoming budget speech HEALA is reiterating its call on Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana to increase the Health Promotion Levy (HPL) to the recommended rate of 20% to ensure that all South Africans, particularly the most vulnerable, realise their right to nutritious food.

Research shows that South Africa’s children are starving. Experts warn that nearly five million South African children live below the poverty line. A lack of adequate nutrition in the early years of a child’s life is one of the leading causes of stunting. Children with stunting are more likely to grow up to be obese and overweight. We know that obesity is linked with an increased risk of life-threatening non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

Growing evidence shows that health taxes are the most cost-effective tools for controlling the consumption of unhealthy foods.  That is why we are calling on the National Treasury to increase the HPL to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommended 20% rate with annual inflation-related increases thereafter and immediately begin the public consultation process of expansion to fruit juices and lowering the 4g threshold.

As it stands, the Child Support Grant has not kept up with rising food prices, and so many children and families go hungry.

HEALA strongly believes that the HPL is one of many effective ways to ensure that South Africa’s children are taken care of. Furthermore, we believe that it is the  responsibility of the Finance Minister to raise enough funds to increase the Child Support Grant to at least the Food Poverty Line, which is currently R760 per person per month.

“Earlier this month we heard during the State of the Nation that more than half of South Africans live in poverty. We see how this plays out in the Eastern Cape with 1 in 4 children being stunted. We know that 1 in 5 households have experienced food insecurity. Social support grants can ensure that South Africans access the most basic of needs: food and water. We cannot live in a country where one-half struggle to live, while we also host the most billionaires on the Continent,” says Petronell Kruger, Programme Manager at HEALA.

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, which reduces the risk of life-threatening non-communicable diseases.

These additional funds from the HPL will boost the fiscus, allowing the government to increase the child support grant. By raising the sugary drinks tax, treasury can fund this vital lifesaving intervention.

From its inception on 1 April 2018 to 31 March 2021, the HPL has generated R7.9 billion in cumulative revenue from domestically produced and imported products. Specifically, collections in 2018/19, 2019/20 and 2020/21 were R3.2 billion, R2.5 billion and R2.1 billion respectively.  An increase in the HPL to the recommended 20% could almost double the revenue collected by Treasury. In 2023 the Finance minister announced a moratorium on any increases on the HPL until 2025. We cannot keep delaying the increase to the levy and prioritising the sugar industry’s profits over our health.

“The government is doing a disservice to the sugar industry by using the HPL as a scapegoat. It is  important that we tackle the real issues: corruption by big players like Tongaat Hulett, climate change and genuine investment in diversifying the industry,” Kruger says.

“Do not punish the public. We know that poor health costs the country money. We know that poor diets are killing people. The HPL is a win-win. To suspend the HPL to try and save the sugar industry when the real issues lie elsewhere is irrational and dangerous,” Kruger adds.

HEALA believes that a healthy population is a nation’s greatest asset, by prioritising the health and overall well-being of our nation’s children, we are making an investment into our future.

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.

 

Giving you the squeeze: Fruit Juice companies are not 100% honest

Packed lunches are top of mind for parents and care givers who are getting ready to send their little ones back to school. These often include fruit juices which parents see as a healthy alternative to sodas and other sugar sweetened beverages.

However, fruit juices benefit from the health halo effect. These days the dangers of drinking too many sugar sweetened beverages like soda are well known, however many of us do not realise that some fruit juices have more sugar than sodas. Drinking too much fruit juices has been shown to lead to an increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Unlike a regular fruit, which contains fibre and is more filling, fruit juices have little to no fibre giving them a high glycaemic index.

Cereal companies are no better. South African researchers have highlighted the targeting of children by cereal manufacturers. Of the 222 breakfast cereals studied, about 97 % had a health claim. Even worse, the cereals with health claims which were marketed at children were found to be less healthy overall: such cereal had a significantly lower protein and fibre content and a significantly higher total carbohydrate and total sugar content.

Parents want to be healthy and make good food choices. Often this means making buying decisions based on a claim on the food package that it has some positive effect on your health (termed health claims). Unfortunately, these claims are not always true, or focus on one aspect of food to the exclusion of mentioning unhealthy components.

Food manufacturers often rely on health claims to create false impressions on food.

Many of the so-called “health foods” claim to be high in fibre and low in fat while hiding the fact that they contain high levels of other unhealthy ingredients, think of your classic yoghurt advert. This creates a “health halo” – a phenomenon where select claims on a product create an overestimated or false sense that the whole product is healthy.

While one cannot claim that intentions are always malicious, in a world where people are becoming increasingly health conscious it is obvious that big food would use the health halo to influence consumers’ purchasing decisions. The health halo makes it harder for people to decide between healthy and unhealthy food.

This is why South Africans urgently need a regulation that prohibits food manufacturers from making health claims on foods that are high in nutrients of concern such as salt, sugar and saturated fat.

Should the government, and over 12 000 South Africans have their way, all foods and beverages that have high levels of salt, sugar or saturated fat and fall within “high in” thresholds or contain any non-sugar sweetener will have a front-of-pack warning label (FOPWL) on them. Foods that contain a warning label will not be allowed to carry a health claim that changes the perceived healthfulness of the product.

In a country where most of the nutrition labels on food are complicated and difficult to understand for the ordinary person, it makes sense that people would rely on health claims to make their decisions.

Parents and caregivers deserve better.

Experts are sounding the alarm on the prevalence of noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes. South Africa in particular is on the precipice of a disaster. “The prevalence of diabetes mellitus has rapidly increased in South Africa, from 4.5% in 2010 to 12.7% in 2019. Of the 4.58 million people aged 20–79 years who were estimated to have diabetes in South Africa in 2019, 52.4% were undiagnosed” the researchers found. The primary cause of this explosion of disease was found to be closely related to nutrition.  People need to be given an opportunity to make better choices for themselves without being misled by untrue claims.

A suggestion from the food and beverage industry is to be given a chance to self-regulate. However, research has proven time and time again that voluntary regulations are often weak and do not go far enough to protect the consumer.

Researchers in Brazil found that food producers deliberately used nutrition claims as a promotional strategy for their unhealthy foods. This study, looked at the packaging on over 2000 ultra-processed foods noting that of which 59.8% of the packaging presented at least one promotional strategy. Unsurprisingly, nutrition claims were the most commonly found promotional strategy, followed by health claims and the use of characters.

In order to give people a chance to make meaningful changes to their health, South Africans need clear, easy-to-read nutrition labels on the front of food packages. Companies cannot be allowed to continue to mislead well-meaning South Africans. Mandatory, comprehensive labelling laws are vital to achieve this end.

 

 

HEALA Board Appoints Nzama Mbalati As Interim CEO

The HEALA Board is pleased to announce the appointment of Mr. Nzama Mbalati as its Interim CEO effective 1st December 2023. Mr Mbalati has been serving with the organisation since 2018 and has been a valuable member of HEALA as the Programmes Manager driving the Programmes Strategy. His professional experience encompasses over 17 years in social justice, health, food and nutrition advocacy.

Nzama is an experienced social justice activist with strengths in community and health systems strengthening, community mobilization, policy advocacy, lobbying, human rights and project management. Having worked in the social justice and public health space for over a decade, he is well-versed on issues of politics, policy, health, human rights, inequality and various other socio-economic issues facing the people of South Africa.

The term of the Interim CEO will be tied to the search of the next CEO. Over the next few months the Board will lead the search for the next CEO of HEALA with a passion for our vision and mission.

During this time of transition, we count on your continued support. Please join us in congratulating Mr Nzama Mbalati in this role and wishing him all the best and continued success.

Sincerely,

HEALA Board

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

Healthy Living Alliance steering conversations about healthy food and healthy living

The Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA) held its quarterly panel discussion at the Clico Boutique Hotel. HEALA advocates for communities to organize and mobilize around policy and the right to affordable, nutritious food.

The discussion presented the media with an opportunity to learn about the role the big food plays in frustrating the implementation of lifesaving health policies and thwarting HEALA’s goal of ensuring “equitable access to healthy food” for all South Africans. The panel, led by HEALA’s programme manager Nzama Mbalati, legal researcher and PHD candidate Petronell Kruger, and Policy and Research Manager Angelika Grimbeek, was facilitated by Newzroom Afrika news anchor, Michelle Craig.

With South Africa under threat from the proliferation – and preference – for Ultra Processed Foods (UPFs) packaged and marketed by major food industry players, it is critical for organizations like HEALA to redirect the conversation to the dangers posed by noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and other risk factors associated with unhealthy food choices.

Some of these include consuming an unhealthy diet high in sugary meals, salty foods, and fatty foods. The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended that countries implement interventions for Front of Package Labels (FoPL), strict marketing restrictions, and taxation as a means of fostering a culture of responsible food production and processing by large food producers, marketing institutions, and government agencies in order to steer consumers towards adopting healthy food choices and avoid NCDs.

Big Food Producers and marketing

According to Zukiswa Zimela, Communications Manager at HEALA, most of the non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and some cancers can be attributed to the overconsumption of foods high in salt, sugar and saturated fat.

However, attempts to reduce the overconsumption of these foods are made difficult due to the proliferation of these foods in our supermarkets and the persuasive nature of the media and brand marketing strategies employed by the food and beverage industry through “sleek” marketing.

Angelika Grimbeek, manager of policy and research, says that a lot of people are unaware that common foods may in fact be harmful to their health.

For years, adverts and “health” claims have been utilized by large food corporations to sway consumer choices. Big bucks have been generated off of selling consumers foods and drinks loaded with sugar, salt, fat, and artificial sweeteners. Diseases like Type-2 diabetes and high blood pressure, which can lead to stroke or heart disease, are becoming increasingly common in our communities, added Grimbeek.

“Big food businesses have used adverts and health claims to influence what we eat for years. Massive profits have been made selling us products high in sugar, salt, fat and added sweetener. We are seeing more and more people in our communities suffering from diseases like Type-2 diabetes and high blood pressure that can lead to stroke or heart disease,” she said.

Healthy living is expensive: truth or myth?

For Patronell Kruger, the notion that a diet high in unhealthy foods is more expensive than one rich in nutritious foods is false.

“We must face the high cost of unhealthy diet and the consequences of noncommunicable diseases. The monetary burden of caring for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) like diabetes has both immediate and far-reaching consequences. The cost of insulin is high. South Africans lose an average of R2,700 per year due to NCD, according to a study done by Wits University. That’s an eight-month COVID-19 award,” Kruger calculated.

South Africa became the first African nation to tax suger sweetened beverages on April 1, 2018. This regulation has caused beverage corporations to lower sugar-sweetened drink intake, but it will take more to shift behaviours.

The WHO studies demonstrate that a correctly planned tax that raises retail prices by 20% or more can reduce consumption proportionally and encourage healthier alternatives.

Mbalati noted that the food and beverage industry historically resisted new regulations and policies since major corporations are profit-driven. This makes advocacy a battleground between big industry, the government, and organizations like HEALA that advocate good policy.

Mbalati said the government sometimes speaks alone and the big industry sometimes misrepresents information to deceive consumers.

HEALA said that a South African HPL study indicated that the food and beverage industry misrepresents evidence and confuses the public by changing packaging.

Mbalati has urged media to present genuine and practical stories of persons recovering from terrible dietary choices.

“More human stories are needed. We must cease intellectualizing the problem with scholarly opinion pieces. I want to read about a diabetic. I want to know about her problems, food, transportation, and medication. “We need to humanize these stories,” Mbalati says.

Ends

Press Statement: Food and beverage companies are ‘cereal’ offenders when it comes to targeting children

New research demonstrates that child-directed marketing strategies are used on most South African breakfast cereals. 

“New research from University of the Western Cape, led by researcher Alice S. Khan, exposes how breakfast cereals, which directly market to children, have a lower nutritional value and 96% of the cereals studied had a nutritional health claim. There is an urgent need for regulations to restrict this predatory marketing and to introduce clear front-of-package warning labels on unhealthy products so consumers can make informed decisions,” says Nzama Mbalati Programmes Manager for HEALA.

The research shows that marketing and advertising is a key factor in promoting the consumption of ultra-processed products. Children are highly susceptible to these ads. Food and beverage advertising has remained unregulated even though children’s rights are guaranteed in the South African Constitution.

In this study, the researchers assessed the nutritional composition of 222 breakfast cereals, direct child marketing strategies (i.e., illustrations, characters, fantasy, role models), and indirect marketing to children’s parents (nutritional claims and health claims). Breakfast cereals with direct child marketing strategies had lower levels of protein and fibre and higher total sugar and carbohydrate content than those without direct marketing strategies.

HEALA is calling for the National Department of Health (NDoH) to ensure that there is strict regulation on the marketing of products with front of package warning labels, as this marketing has the potential to influence purchase and consumption of unhealthy products, and until now, has been highly pervasive and unregulated in South Africa. Research shows that mandatory restrictions are necessary to ensure that products do not have child-directed marketing. Promises made by the industry to self-regulate have not been effective in reducing targeted marketing to children.

South Africa is one of the few countries in the world that promotes peoples access to high-quality food in its Constitution. Section 27(1)(b) of the South African Constitution guarantees all the right to sufficient food and commits the state to the progressive realisation of this right. Additionally, Section 28(1)(c) states that every child has the right to basic nutrition, shelter, basic health care services and social services. Hence its crucial that the State guards against industry practices that seek to reverse the hard earn gains enshrined in our constitution.

Draft Regulation Relating to the Labelling and Advertising of Foodstuffs (R3337) furthers South Africa’s commitment to the right to food by regulating how unhealthy products are marketed to children and adults and through introducing front-of-package labels warning of high levels of sugar, salt and saturated fat. The comment period for Draft Regulation 3337 was recently extended until 21 September 2023, we suspect due to the lobbying efforts of the food and beverage industry to stall its implementation.

ENDS

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 HEALA’s advocacy work, please visit: https://heala.org

Media Contact
Zukiswa Zimela, Communications Manager
zzimela@heala.org | 0745210652

OP-ED: Aggressive advertising of unhealthy food targets children, but we can do something about it now

Growing up I watched the annual Christmas adverts made by a popular global sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) brand with amazement. Their trickery added to the festive magic and convinced me that Christmas would not be complete without their products being part of the family feast.

As an adult, I know better. Their not-so-sweet intentions of making a profit at the expense of people’s health leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. As a dietitian I have spent countless hours counselling some of South Africa’s overweight and obese, of whom 31% are men and 68% women – advising them on how to lose weight and avoid falling victim to the country’s top noncommunicable killer diseases such diabetes and heart problems, which are rapidly growing and posing a health threat to our society.

As a nutrition policy advocate, I have read numerous reports and research which show how the very powerful and well-resourced food and beverage industry will stop at nothing to market their products, intentionally targeting children.

Research has found that SSB manufacturers have spent close to R4-billion on advertising in six years, with most of these adverts targeting children and family viewing times. Even though these SSB manufacturers have signed various self-regulation pledges to do otherwise, nothing has changed. Children are highly susceptible to adverts for unhealthy foods. As a mother, I have experienced the power of cleverly child-crafted adverts. Nobody can blame a child for choosing the treat advertised by a celebrity or cartoon over their mother convincing them about healthy food.

For far too long the industry has been given free rein to convince us consumers that these manufactured products are what we should be eating.

As families and society we all experience the constant bombardment of advertising – from billboards on busy highways and local shops and schools covered with branding, to soundbites on radio and constant promotions at supermarkets. We don’t even get a break when we log on to social media, where we see influencers promoting unhealthy products. The cravings we get from these adverts are difficult to escape. Our food environment is also flooded with cheap products that are energy-dense and nutrient-poor, making it very difficult to eat healthily. In the past 20 years, due to the commercialisation of food production and aggressive marketing, South Africans have started consuming more and more ultraprocessed products that are putting their health at risk, affecting their lives and placing a burden on our health system.

Realistically, unhealthy food products will always be around. The food and beverage industry is a business that needs these products to make money. However, for far too long it has been given free rein to convince us consumers that these manufactured products are what we should be eating. This has to stop.

Warning labels

The government has a responsibility to protect the health and nutrition of its citizens, as outlined in the Constitution. This can be done by enforcing national regulations that can protect households and individuals from predatory marketing practices. Among them is the proposed Draft Regulations Relating to the Labelling and Advertising of Foodstuffs (R3337), which was gazetted for public consultation on 21 April 2023. The last day for public comment is 21 July 2023.

In this draft, the Department of Health puts forward the introduction of mandatory front-of-package warning labels to be placed on packaged foods and drinks that are high in added sugar, salt and saturated fat or contain any artificial sweeteners. As a further proactive measure to especially protect our children from the harmful effects of unhealthy food marketing, the department has included marketing restrictions of all products carrying these labels. This regulation is a step towards helping consumers understand what is in the food we eat so we are better equipped to achieve our consumer responsibility of making healthier food choices for ourselves and our families.

Similar mandatory regulations have been implemented in many countries. In Chile, the combination of front-of-package warning labels, marketing restrictions and banning school sales of these products has led to a drop in the purchase of unhealthy products with no effect on employment, wages or profits for the food and beverage industry.

As a parent, I welcome any help in ensuring our children are protected from the pervasive marketing of unhealthy food by big food and beverage companies. To comment on this draft regulation go to Amandla.mobi and join me in supporting this crucial regulation. DM

Angelika Grimbeek is the Policy and Research Manager at HEALA. She is a registered dietitian that has a Master of Science in Community Paediatrics, giving her the skills and passion needed to be a nutrition advocate fighting for Food Justice in South Africa.

This oped was published in the Daily Maverick on the 19th of July 2023

Activists call for more restrictions on marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks to children

With one day to go before the 21 July closing of the public comment period for new draft legislation on mandatory food labelling and restrictions on marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks, the Healthy Living Alliance (Heala) is calling on government to strengthen the proposed marketing restrictions – specifically, to place tougher restrictions on advertising and marketing to children.

The new draft regulations, called R3337, include long-awaited, mandatory front-of-pack warning labels for foods high in added sugars, fats and salt, and on any product containing artificial (non-sugar) sweeteners, to reduce the risks of obesity and non-communicable diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The draft regulations also propose long-awaited restrictions on the marketing and advertising of foods and drinks to children, who are particularly vulnerable to the influences of marketing, and are often the targets of “aggressive food and beverage advertising campaigns”, Heala says.

Read the whole article here: https: Daily Maverick