South Africans have become more used to quick convenience and junk foods in recent years as the demands of life increase, leaving less time to cook healthy meals. As a result of this, the Department of Health is looking into introducing front-of-pack warning labels.

Lynn Moeng, Chief Director of Nutrition at the Department of Health, said most people are not aware of what is in their food when speaking at the Healthy Living Alliance in February.

“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,” she said.

As reported by the Citizen, Moeng said the Department of Health aims to introduce the new regulations later this year, or in early 2020.

A study conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2016 found that more than 28% of South Africa’s adults are obese. This is the highest obesity rate for any sub-Saharan African country on the continent, with Botswana placing second with a 18.9% adult obesity rate.

These statistics also correlate with a Stats SA survey released in that same year, which reflected that 68% of women in South Africa over the age of 15 were obese or overweight. Approximately 31% of men were found to be overweight or obese.

Labelling junk food has been an international issue – lawmakers in several countries have argued that educating their citizens on healthier food choices would be a more effective way to tackle obesity.

According to a Reuters report, 200 lawmakers in 80 countries were divided on how to reduce the ever-increasing healthcare costs associated with poor diets when meeting at the first ever global summit for hunger and malnutrition that happened in 2018.

Many critics argue that these labels may have a negative impact on consumer choices, and health taxes have also complicated the matter, as sugary drinks and food with high salt and fat content are cheaper than healthier options.

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