Mot­soaledi sets sights on su­gar

Alarm­ing di­a­betes rates in SA give health min­is­ter a new tar­get

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - Craig Dodds

HE’S TAKEN the fight to the fat­cat in­ter­ests of to­bacco and al­co­hol firms and even has cab­i­net min­is­ters climb­ing stairs.

Now, Health Min­is­ter Aaron Mot­soaledi has a new pub­lic health enemy in his sights, and the su­gar in­dus­try can ex­pect a can­ing.

Among the mea­sures be­ing con­sid­ered to com­bat alarm­ing in­creases in di­a­betes rates in South Africa are pos­si­ble manda­tory health warn­ings on prod­ucts con­tain­ing su­gar, la­belling re­quire­ments that would spell out to­tal su­gar con­tent on the front of pack­ag­ing, no added fruc­tose per­mit­ted in prod­ucts mak­ing a health or nu­tri­tion claim, and a ban on high-su­gar con­tent prod­ucts be­ing mar­keted to chil­dren.

That’s be­sides re­stric­tions on ad­ver­tis­ing of foods con­tain­ing high amounts of su­gar, re­strict­ing the con­tainer size per serv­ing, lim­it­ing the sale of sug­ary prod­ucts in school tuck­shops and ed­u­cat­ing chil­dren on the dan­gers of ex­ces­sive su­gar con­sump­tion.

No de­ci­sions had been taken yet, Mot­soaledi said this week in a writ­ten re­ply to a par­lia­men­tary ques­tion from Cope leader Mo­siuoa Lekota.

But the ev­i­dence was be­ing re­viewed to de­ter­mine the need for leg­is­la­tion and there was a draft work­ing doc­u­ment called “Phase 2, la­belling reg­u­la­tions”.

“Su­gar, es­pe­cially when con­sumed in large quan­ti­ties, is a ma­jor risk fac­tor for sig­nif­i­cant mor­bid­ity and mor­tal­ity glob­ally, in­clud­ing in South Africa,” Mot­soaledi said in his re­ply.

While the full ex­tent of the harm was sub­ject to sci­en­tific study and re­view, the Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion had es­ti­mated that, world­wide, about 180 000 deaths a year could be at­trib­uted to sug­ary soft drinks alone.

“More­over, soft drinks are only one of many sources of ex­cess su­gar in­take, so the over­all health im­pact is much larger,” Mot­soaledi said.

While health warn­ings on food pack­ag­ing mer­ited “se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion” there were “a num­ber of com­plex is­sues in­volved”.

“For ex­am­ple, it would have to be de­ter­mined what lev­els of su­gar a prod­uct should con­tain in or­der to carry a warn­ing la­bel, and this is con­tro­ver­sial.”

It would not be ra­tional to slap la­bels on all prod­ucts con­tain­ing su­gar as some con­tained rel­a­tively harm­less amounts and there were so many that the im­pact would be lim­ited as the la­bels would be too com­mon.

“A cut-off point would there­fore be nec­es­sary, but also com­plex, should warn­ings be in­tro­duced,” Mot­soaledi said.

Warn­ings and ed­u­ca­tion ef­forts were im­por­tant, but re­lied on in­di­vid­u­als tak­ing note and act­ing on the in­for­ma­tion, Mot­soaledi lamented.

NO-SU­GAR MAN: Aaron Mot­soaledi has a mis­sion.

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