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Cape Town - First, tobacco advertising was banned, and reports are that alcohol ads and sponsorships are soon to be consigned to history. Now there is a suggestion that it may become illegal to advertise junk food to children.
And food producers who make fattening and unhealthy processed foods could face higher taxes if a grand plan by the national Department of Health is implemented.
In its non-communicable disease strategy, aimed at reducing lifestyle diseases over the next five years, the department also plans to revise regulations on warning labels for alcohol to include, among other things, the dangers of alcohol for pregnant women.
In the 80-page document - Strategic Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases 2013-2017 - made public in Grahamstown at the weekend, the department discusses its plans to clamp down on poor lifestyle choices and diseases including obesity, smoking, physical inactivity and certain cancers.
The document says that while regulation of salt content in processed foods to reduce incidents of hypertension and strokes is critical, “consideration may also be given to banning junk food advertisements to children during key television programmes, to control what is sold to children during school time”.
South Africans consume more than 10g of salt a day, but the government plans to reduce this by more than 5g, with bread and processed meats the main targets.
Another plan is to tax undesirable processed foods and, at the same time, exempt healthier choices from taxation. The document says most risk factors for non-communicable diseases can be reduced if everyone eats nutrient-rich, fibre-rich foods and green leafy vegetables, but they have to be affordable.
This would mean government departments would have to work together with the food industry and non-governmental organisations.
The plan acknowledges that healthy foods are too expensive for most South Africans, costing between 10 percent and 60 percent more than unhealthy foods.
Interventions are needed by the departments of Health, Agriculture, Trade and Industry, and Basic Education, and the Treasury.
Tackling the problem of obesity also needs help from Sport and Recreation, Transport, Education and Human Settlements.
Tobacco use, physical inactivity, unhealthy diets and harmful use of alcohol are regarded as the main risk factors to cancers, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Alcohol alone causes 7 percent of deaths in South Africa, while smoking contributes about 6 to 9 percent, or 30 000 to 60 000 deaths.
Some of the department’s goals and targets for 2020 include:
* Reducing tobacco and alcohol use by 20 percent.
* Cutting down hypertension (high blood pressure) by 20 percent and salt intake to less than 5g a day.
* Reducing premature deaths (under the age of 60) by 25 percent and mental disorders by 30 percent.
* Lessening obesity by 10 percent and increasing physical exercise (150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a week) by 10 percent.
The strategy includes screening women with sexually transmitted infections for cervical cancer every five years; all other women should have three pap smears in a lifetime.
Professor Melvyn Freeman, chief director of non-communicable disease for the department, warned that such diseases were more than a health threat – they were a threat to the nation’s development.
He said the aim of the strategy was to generate “long healthy lives for all South Africans through prevention and control of these diseases, rather than the curative approach”, which the country was currently doing.
Vash Mungal-Singh, chief executive of the Heart and Stroke Foundation, welcomed the strategy.