IT’S KILLING OUR KIDS FIRST LADY SHEDS KILOS
South African kids are not only getting fatter, but they are starting to suffer from hypertension – a condition that used to affect only adults. A report released by medical aid provider Discovery Health last year found that 11% of children younger than 12 and 23% of adolescents were affected by hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. Hypertension is often caused by obesity and high-salt diets. It is life-threatening and increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Although exact salt consumption in children is not known, experts believe that it must be high, based on the fact that adults eat double the recommended amount of salt each day and children tend to follow the habits of their caregivers. The World Health Organisation recommends that a person should eat up to 5g of salt a day, but South Africans eat between 7.8g and 9.5g a day.
This, says Heart and Stroke Foundation dietician Jessica Byrne, is a scary scenario and something needs to be done urgently to put a stop to it.
“We are seeing this shocking trend in South Africa largely as a result of the unhealthy foods we feed our children,” she says. “A diet high in salt is the main cause of high blood pressure. While we expect to see high blood pressure in older adults, the phenomenon in children is now much more common and very worrying, especially as these children will have a much greater risk of developing severe health problems – such as heart disease, stroke and kidney failure – as young adults.”
A study conducted by researchers at Wits University in 2011 revealed that half the teenagers in Soweto eat fast food more than 11 times a week – far more than the reported fast-food consumption among adolescents in the US, who are ranked highest in fast-food consumption.
A kota (quarter) was found to be the fast-food favourite for Soweto teens. Typically, this massive sandwich consists of a quarter loaf of white bread with fried chips, eggs, cheese, polony and sausage. Its popularity is not hard to understand: a kota is cheap – starting at about R9 – accessible and filling. It also contributes more than half of a 17-year-old’s daily energy requirement of 10 000 kilojoules.
Byrne blames advertising for increasing obesity and lifestyle diseases among children. “Children are often targets for the advertising of unhealthy snacks. We all know that children are extremely impressionable and they are being marketed at extensively.”
But there is some good news. Government has begun cracking the whip on producers of high-salt foods. In March 2013, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi signed an amendment to the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act of 1976. The legislation requires that salt be reduced in a long list of groceries by 2019.
These include bread, butter, breakfast cereals, potato crisps, readyto-eat snacks, processed meat, sausages, soup and gravy powders, two-minute noodles, stock cubes and jelly. The new restrictions will require that a loaf of bread, which is currently 4.8% sodium, contain about 4% by next year and be down to 3.8% by 2019.