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  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.  South Africa has one of the highest prevalence rates of diabetes in sub-Saharan Africa. 
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.
 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
The Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA) is a coalition advancing food justice in South Africa.
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Communications Manager: HEALA