In recent years, it has become very clear that South Africans are consuming more ultra- processed foods that are high in sugar, salt, and saturated fat, contributing to an alarming increase in the numbers of obesity and higher levels of Noncommunicable Disease rates. This has resulted in an alarming increase in the number of South Africans suffering from diabetes, hypertension, and some cancers.
This World Diabetes Day, 14 November, Healthy Living Alliance, HEALA, is calling on government utilise all tools at its disposal, including Front of Pack Warning Labels, (FOPL) to create a healthier food environment and fix the food system for all those living in South Africa.
Illnesses such as diabetes do not only affect individuals on the personal level, they also have a crippling effect on the country’s growth. It is estimated that of the 4.58 million people between 20 and 79 years old are suffering from diabetes in South Africa. In 2019, 52.4% were undiagnosed with the disease. While the accumulated economic losses to SA’s “gross domestic product between 2006 to 2015 due to diabetes, stroke and coronary heart disease were estimated at R26 billion.
“Now more than ever, government needs to prioritise the health of all those living in South Africa by implementing a strong policy that will enable those living in South Africa to make more informed decisions about the type of food they are eating. HEALA is urgently calling for the National Department of Health to release the regulation on Front of Pack Warning Labels to empower all South Africans. We believe that this can no longer be delayed in order to encourage South Africans to make healthier food choices,” says Nzama Mbalati, Head of Programmes at HEALA.
South Africans can no longer be contend with confusing and difficult to understand back of pack labels. Front-of-package warning labels (FOPWL) on foods high in sugar, salt and saturated fat and containing non-sugar sweeteners provide consumers with a quick and uncomplicated way to understand what is in their food – helping them make healthier food choices by avoiding these unhealthy food products.
FOPWL is aimed at discouraging consumers from buying and overconsuming unhealthy products by clearly alerting them of the dangerous nutrients contained in the food. Also FOPL will be key for refomulation to lower threshold of packaged food products hence reducing excessive unhealthy food intake at population level.
Nutrition warning labels highlight excessive nutrients of concern and often include the text “high in” or “excess,” warning consumers that the levels of those nutrients are above health recommendations.
Research has shown that effective front-of-pack labels will allow consumers to make accurate conclusions concerning the nutritional quality of a product by translating the back-of-pack nutrition information into an intuitive and abbreviated format
“It has been many years of waiting. We believe that food regulation is at the centre of encouraging and empowering consumers to make healthier choices and this is in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendation for better regulation of the food environment,” Mbalati explains.
Left to their own devices, food and beverage industries are unlikely to implement measures to safeguard public health. It is up to government to create a regulatory system in place that works to protect consumers from the dangers of ultra-processed food and those high in salt, fat, and sugar.
“We believe that government will make the right choice and not listen to the food and beverage industry who want to look out for their own interests,” concludes Mbalati.