The Department of Health is looking to introduce new regulations to allow for front-of-pack warning labels in South Africa.
This is according to Lynn Moeng, chief director of Nutrition in the Department of Health, who was speaking at the launch of a new Healthy Living Alliance (Heala) campaign on Thursday (21 February), reports the Citizen.
“This will assist people to know what is in packaged food because most people don’t know what they are eating,” said Moeng.
“The problem will then be how to deal with the food that isn’t packaged. People are excited to buy those combos – the chicken, chips and a fizzy drink – without knowing what is in them.”
Moeng said that the Department of Health aimed to introduce the new regulations by late 2019/early 2020.
The idea of putting warning labels on junk food has turned into an international issue with some lawmakers arguing that education would be a far more effective option when tackling high obesity rates.
According to a report by Reuters, some 200 lawmakers from 80 countries were sharply divided over how to stem spiralling healthcare costs caused by poor diets at the first global parliamentary summit against hunger and malnutrition in October 2018.
In countries such as Chile, unhealthy products also cannot be advertised on Chilean television or the internet, or use toys, cartoons or stickers to encourage children to eat them
However, critics have argued that these labels impact on consumer choice.
The issue has been further complicated by other health taxes, with more than a dozen governments now having taxed sugary drinks and food high in salt and fat.
According to a 2016 World Health Organisation (WHO) study, 28.3% of adults in South Africa are obese.
This is the highest obesity rate for the sub-Saharan African countries that the WHO collects data for, with Botswana in second place with an obesity rate of 18.9%.
These statistics are in line with a survey released by Stats SA in the same year which estimated that 68% of women aged 15 years and older were overweight or obese.
By comparison, just 31% of men were overweight or obese it found.