Food systems must change to promote healthy choices and fight obesity

Healthier food options are relatively expensive and unaffordable in low- and middle-income countries. It makes people steer away from healthier options. . Credit: Busani Bafana / IPS
  • Inter Press Service

In Africa, nearly 70% of diabetes cases go undiagnosed. Of these, 90% are cases of type 2 diabetes. Obesity is a key risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes. Between 1975 and 2016, Southern Africa saw the world highest proportional increase in obesity in children and adolescents – an alarming 400% per decade.

Ultra-processed foods and sugary drinks contribute to increasing rates of obesity and diet-related illnesses. Unhealthy processed foods are now commonly consumed in low- and middle-income countries. This is largely due to the low prices, types of food, availability and marketing strategies employed by a large companies.

Healthier food options are relatively expensive and unaffordable in low and middle income countries. This influences people to move away from healthier options. Companies are aggressively marketing these convenient, appetizing, but unhealthy foods and targeting their marketing to children. It is not always possible to choose healthier products, especially in rural areas.

Provide ultra-processed products is very profitable for companies concerned. These products have low production input requirements, high retail value, and extended shelf life. Often, the responsibility for the prevention of noncommunicable diseases lies with people. But the corporate food industry is creating a food environment that gives rise to obesity.

COVID-19 has brought a new urgency to the need to fix food systems that put profits before public health.

A recent report by Global Health Advocacy Incubator highlights how food and beverage companies have used the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to promote their ultra-processed foods to vulnerable populations around the world.

The report includes more than 280 examples from 18 food industry countries that are undermining healthy food policy efforts. This was done through lobbying to classify ultra-processed (unhealthy) foods as “essentials” during the pandemic.

They have also improved their brand image by providing financial and other support to needy communities, frontline workers, food banks and small businesses while continuing to market unhealthy products and pushing against food policies. healthy.

A change in food systems is urgently needed. Interventions to achieve this, we must include Strategies that promote healthier food choices. These include imposing taxes on foods high in sugar, salt or saturated fat (unhealthy fats); regulate food labels; and restrict the marketing of unhealthy products. Policies should also help people make healthier food choices, for example through subsidies.

Healthy food policies to consider

Globally, there has been pressure for healthy food policies to stem the obesity pandemic. African countries have been slow to adopt policies like these.

But South Africa has introduced a Health promotion tax in 2018. It aims to encourage manufacturers to reduce the sugar content of drinks. It also seeks to discourage excessive consumption by increasing the price of these products. Mexico imposed a tax on sugary drinks in 2014.

This has resulted in a 6% reduction in purchases of sugary drinks and their replacement with untaxed drinks (mostly plain water) – especially among low-income households who are likely to have poorer health outcomes.

The implementation of the tax is recognition that companies have fabricated conditions that cultivate bad consumption leading to poor nutrition and noncommunicable diseases.

Governments should also introduce labeling which helps consumers identify foods high in salt, saturated fat or sugar. Chile has introduced a set of related policies, including warning labels and marketing controls. The result was that companies reformulated the products to improve their health profile.

But taxes and labeling interventions will not be enough to stem the tide of obesity and noncommunicable diseases. Food policies should also make healthy food more accessible.

Grants can lower the price healthy food. This will help to bring healthy food within the reach of the poorest. Prices can be changed through a combination of taxes on unhealthy products and subsidies on healthier alternatives.

In Finland, a milk protein subsidy rather than the fat in milk, this resulted in increased consumption of low-fat milk and a reduction in cardiovascular disease over time. A fruit and vegetable subsidy in the United States, the special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children has led to increased and sustained consumption of fruits and vegetables.

The path to follow

The best policies are those that create positive changes in the food, social and informational environments. A policy cannot be adopted in isolation; to have the greatest impact, they must be part of a set of actions that reinforce and support each other. Chile is a country that has taken steps like this to create a conducive environment.

Sub-Saharan African countries should better regulate the food industry to protect against industry interference that harms people. Policies that restrict marketing to children, provide clear labeling and tax unhealthy foods should be the start. The revenue generated by these taxes could be used to subsidize the cost of healthy foods.The conversation

Rina swart, Professor, University of the Western Cape; Makoma bopape, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Limpopo, and Tamryn Frank, Searcher, University of the Western Cape

This article is republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read it original article.

© Inter Press Service (2021) – All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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