Motsoaledi sets sights on sugar
Alarming diabetes rates in SA give health minister a new target
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.