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The Constitution of South Africa pledges to “improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person”. According to Section 27 of the Constitution, everyone has the right to “access to sufficient food and water”, and the state is compelled to “take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realisation of each of these rights”.
However, over the past two decades, the diets of South Africans have shifted rapidly from a traditional diet based on grains, legumes, vegetables and fruit to a ‘western diet’ based on energy-dense, nutrient-poor processed foods and beverages with high added sugar and salt. These junk foods and sugary drinks are backed by massive advertising that permeates every aspect of South African life.
South Africa has the highest overweight and obesity rate in sub-Saharan Africa, with up to 70% of women and a third of men being classified as overweight or obese. Some 40% of women in our country are obese (body mass index greater than 30 kg/m2). One in four girls and one in five boys between the ages of 2 and 14 years are overweight or obese.
Poor diet now generates more disease than physical inactivity, alcohol and smoking combined. Obesity is associated with a number of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, joint pain and certain cancers.
Currently, NCDs are the leading causes of death worldwide, resulting in 16 million premature deaths each year. The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that NCDs will account for 73% of deaths and 60% of the disease burden by the year 2020, mainly in low- and middle-income countries.
NCDs currently accounts for a staggering 43% of recorded deaths in South Africa.
The chronic nature of NCDs demands long-term care and imposes a significant burden on an overstretched health system.
Improving diets to reduce NCDS in South Africa requires a sustained public health effort that addresses environmental factors and the conditions in which people live and make choices.
Sugary drinks is associated with weight gain in both children and adults and generally have little nutritional value. Furthermore, consumption of sugary foods and drinks is the primary cause of tooth decay,and 55% of 6-year-olds in South Africa suffer untreated tooth decay.
For more information please view our Manifesto for Healthy Living Alliance.
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