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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.


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