South Africa Update Vol 1, #1

Healthy Food Initiative Under Threat

Strategic Communications

May 5, 2016

Rumours of an imminent “sugar tax” (tax on high-sugar content foodstuffs) have for some time dogged the food and non-alcoholic beverage industries. Whether or not the rumours are true, the Department of Health’s concerns about obesity among South Africans appear to be justified. Various scientific publications have named SA “the third-fattest nation in the world”.

Obesity among young South African children is also 35% higher than the global child obesity occurrence, which adds significantly to the country’s noncommunicable disease burden. It is ostensibly for this reason that the department pegged SA’s target for the 2020 Millennium Development Goals at a 10% reduction in obesity rates, while other nations eschewed specific targets.

Industry stakeholders met department officials in February 2014 to obtain clarity on the matter. It was agreed to shift the emphasis from "sugar taxation" to a more comprehensive focus on healthier food options. Various engagements followed where self-regulation, existing industry initiatives and challenges were deliberated.

Three focus areas were identified: revising the 2009 marketing to children code as a suggested replacement for the department’s very strict guideline; a consumer awareness campaign aimed at promoting healthy foodstuff options as part of a healthy lifestyle; and product reformulation to introduce more healthy options to the market.

It also became evident that a single tailored solution would not suffice, as the industries involved varied significantly. It was therefore agreed to rather follow a sector-based approach. Six sectors were identified: quick-service restaurants, snacks, treats and baked goods, grains and cereals, nonalcoholic beverages, wholesale and retail, and dairy products. Action plans from each of the sectors would contain specific goals and respective deadlines that would feed into one large industry strategy, to be presented to the department for approval.

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