Put children’s health and wellbeing first in the regulation of foodstuffs
UNICEF South Africa welcomes the draft regulations for the ‘Labelling and Advertising of Foodstuffs in South Africa’ and encourages submissions to help protect children from unhealthy diets.
PRETORIA 04 July 2023 – The need for effective regulation to promote more nutritious diets is critical to create a healthier food environment for children in South Africa, stated UNICEF today at a roundtable discussion on the regulation of foodstuffs.
The prevalence of overweight and obesity among children and adolescents in South Africa requires an urgent response. A UNICEF baseline study, released last year, showed that more than 31 per cent of 15–19-year-old females in South Africa are living with overweight or obesity, threatening a non-communicable diseases epidemic.
“Access to unhealthy foods is simply a lot easier and cheaper for many parents, caregivers, and children,” said Christine Muhigana, UNICEF South Africa Representative, speaking at the UNICEF hosted roundtable. “Families must be provided with the information that they need, and have a right to know, to help them make informed choices about the food they purchase and consume,” added Muhigana.
Healthier diets have significant positive impacts on individuals, families, and society, as children can develop to their full potential, are more economically productive and put less strain on healthcare facilities due to the onset of non-communicable diseases.
UNICEF South Africa welcomes the governments initiatives to promote healthier diets and prevent childhood overweight and obesity. The publishing – for comment – of the “Draft Regulations Relating to the Labelling and Advertising of Foodstuffs in South Africa” is a positive step forward and UNICEF encourages relevant organizations to comment on the regulations before 21 July 2023. We are pleased to note that the draft regulations include key regulatory actions such as front-of-pack labelling and the restriction of advertising of unhealthy foods to children.
UNICEF South Africa encourages the Government and all relevant stakeholders to:
- Support legislation that mandates consumer-friendly front-of-package labelling to discourage the consumption of processed foods with high amounts of sugar, salt, saturated and trans-fatty acids. Children and families have a right to know this information so they can make informed choices at the point of purchase.
- Promote adherence to regulations to protect children from the harmful impact of food marketing practices, including the WHO ‘Set of Recommendations on the Marketing of Food and Non-Alcoholic Beverages to Children’.
- Strengthen complementary policy initiatives, which includes the use of fiscal measures, such as the taxation of sugar-sweetened beverages (Health Promotion Levy) to help families reduce their purchase and consumption of unhealthy foods and products.
- Support policies, standards and services that improve the availability of nutritious, safe, and affordable food in schools. This includes policy guidance to serve nutritious and safe meals in schools and protect children from unhealthy foods and beverages in children’s food environments around schools.
The need for action to promote healthy diets and prevent childhood overweight and obesity are also well documented across global initiatives - the Sustainable Development Goals, the Rome Declaration on Nutrition, the United Nations Decade of Action on Nutrition 2016–2025, as well as UN General Assembly and World Health Assembly declarations and outcome documents on the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases.
“The impact of children growing up with the right nutrition cannot be overstated,” said Christine Muhigana. “Their learning ability, focus and temperament, productivity and longer-term health outcomes are all improved when children nourish their bodies with the right foods,” added Muhigana.
UNICEF encourages the relevant government departments, and all partners, including across civil society, academia, and the food industry to support the speedy finalization of these regulations, regulations which then need to be implemented in their entirety, including through stringent monitoring and enforcement.
UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.