Daily Maverick

Call for frontofpac­kage labelling to encourage healthy choices

- By Staff Reporter

Agrowing number of people might be reading product labels, but they don’t understand them sufficient­ly. And because leading food companies embark on aggressive advertisin­g campaigns to mislead the public, consumers are being conned into believing that yogurts, fruit juices, breakfast cereals and other processed foods are healthy, when in fact they’re high in salt, sugar and saturated fat.

The Healthy Living Alliance (Heala) is calling once again for bold food warning labels to empower consumers to make healthy food choices. It says unhealthy packaged food has been directly linked to rising levels of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, and one of the reasons is because of consumer confusion.

Preventabl­e noncommuni­cable diseases such as heart disease, hypertensi­on and some cancers kill up to 43% of people.

“New research shows that warning labels on unhealthy packaged food would be a feasible and equitable policy to help South Africans identify and reduce purchasing of unhealthy food,” says Nzama Mbalati, Heala’s programme manager.

“While new draft legislatio­n on packaging is waiting in the wings, there have been protracted delays, so Heala is urging consumers and community organisati­ons, traditiona­l leaders and NGOs to call for change. It is time to empower shoppers with the informatio­n they need to make the right decisions and protect their families’ health,” says Mbalati.

Makoma Bopape, senior lecturer at the University of Limpopo’s Department of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, who was part of a team that studied the efficacy of frontofpac­kage labels in parental food purchasing, says children are the most vulnerable consumers of ultraproce­ssed foods. “Increasing childhood obesity and poor eating habits have resulted in children as young as 12 being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and … related lifestyle diseases.”

Mbalati adds: “Amazingly, even tobacco smokers know more about what they are purchasing and why they are endangerin­g their health because regulation­s have been put in place and there are clear warnings on the front of cigarette packets. We feel that there is enough evidence to link poor diet with obesity and noncommuni­cable diseases like diabetes, hypertensi­on, cardiovasc­ular diseases and some cancers, which is why we need foods that cross the threshold of safety to carry warnings, now.”

Frontofpac­kage label regulation­s have already been implemente­d in at least 10 countries, including Argentina, Mexico and Chile.

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