Johannesburg - The Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA) has launched an innovative campaign called ‘Think Inside the Box’ to draw attention to the harmful ingredients found in ultra-processed foods.
The purpose of this campaign by HEALA, a coalition of civil society organisations that advocates for equitable access to affordable and nutritious food for all in South Africa, is to make people understand why it’s important for government regulations to require businesses to put clear front-of-package warning labels on unhealthy packaged food.
This also comes in the lead-up to next week’s deadline for public comments on the draft government regulations. The campaign also aims to help consumers understand what's inside the products they consume.
“Children, in particular, are often the targets of aggressive food and beverage advertising campaigns, so bold warning labels are needed to help parents protect themselves and their children,” HEALA explained.
The centrepieces of the campaign’s high-visibility activation, which runs from 14 – 27 July at the Sandton Gautrain Station, is a series of life-size, 3D wire kids.Each interactive sculpture is filled with junk food and beverage cartons in a move designed to visually represent the composition of unhealthy diets and to emphasise how much we consume and the importance of warning labels to enable us to make informed food choices. In addition, a QR code on-site links consumers to more campaign information and gives them the opportunity to comment on the draft regulations.
Nzama Mbalati, Programmes Manager at HEALA, explained that by employing technology and innovative design, they seek to capture the attention and curiosity of consumers.
“The wire kids will serve as a powerful visual tool, exposing the harmful, hidden ingredients and unclear nutritional information of common food products, many of them aimed at children. Our objective is to encourage individuals to voice their support for regulations that would force businesses to put bold warning labels on unhealthy foods so that they can be easily identified.”
She explained that overconsumption of packaged, ultra-processed food that often contains high levels of saturated fats, salt and sugar can lead to people being overweight or obese and can cause a range of diet-related non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers.
“More than 13% of South African children aged 6 to 14 years are overweight, which is higher than the 10% prevalence in schoolchildren globally.
“Excessive weight gain often puts children on the path to life-threatening health issues that were once considered adult problems, including diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Childhood obesity can also lead to poor self-esteem and depression.”
Meanwhile, a 2018 study in the Western Cape found that 80% of foods in South African supermarkets were ultra-processed. In addition, a public opinion survey commissioned by The Community Media Trust and Vital Strategies in 2022 found that there was strong support for the government to adopt front-of-package labels as a way to regulate unhealthy food access.
Mbalati explained that when the regulations are passed, front-of-package warning labels in the shape of a black triangle will allow consumers to see the ingredients of a product at a glance. This, she believes, will help them to make healthier choices and can also help to reduce levels of diet-related non-communicable diseases.
“The passing of the regulations for the mandatory inclusion of front-of-package labels will empower consumers to limit ultra-processed foods and, where possible, prioritise whole, fresh foods for both themselves and their children's health and wellbeing.
“Transparency in food labelling is essential for consumer wellbeing. We are enthusiastic about the prospect of clear labelling, and we aim to captivate and engage individuals, urging them to advocate for policies that promote healthier food choices,” she said.
The Department of Health (DoH) gazetted the draft Regulations Relating to the Labelling and Advertising of Foodstuffs in April 2023 and has made the document available for public comment. Consumers have until 21 July to submit their comments in favour of new and bold front-of-package warning labels that will inform them of packaged food that is high in salt, sugar, saturated fat and contains artificial sweeteners.
The proposed regulations can be read here.
Watch HEALA’s ‘Think Inside the Box’ video here.