Why it’s important to know what’s in your food

Activists say education department’s school food programme flawed
Nine million learners rely on the National School Nutrition Programme.

With front-of-pack warning labels to be introduced in South Africa, HEALA has visited schools in Soweto and Tembisa to educate learners about the food they eat. 

At a recent panel discussion organised hosted by HEALA, the National Health Department chief director of nutrition, Lynn Moeng says South Africa is aligning policy to introduce warning signs on food and beverages. 

Start eating healthy from a young age 

HEALA campaigns and advocacy coordinator Mary-Jane Matsolo says they want learners to understand the health risk that comes with eating unhealthy food, how it impacts their health, and why there is a need for the food industry to change. 

“It’s important for learners to participate in this work because they are ultimately affected by the industry and we need to hear their voices in our call for change in policy. They need to understand what the policy is and how it will assist them.” 

Matsolo says learners can start to make a difference in their school environment by being examples and eating healthy, putting posters around corridors, watch what is being sold at school tuck-shops and be champions of this project. 

Kabelo Tshitsho, grade 11 learner at Diepdale Secondary School in Soweto says he is now more inquisitive about food labels. “I learnt more about eating healthy and how to read food labels with understanding. This will help me know what I eat and I will definitely share the information with my peers.” 

A rude awakening 

Nosipho Msiza (31) from Tsakane shared her weight loss journey to educate leaners about obesity and advocate for healthy eating. “It is important for me to educate them whilst they are still young because [we only have one body].” 

She says her wake-up call was when she reached size 50, weighed 113kg, and was advised to start taking medication for hypertension. 

“From there, I had to make a commitment to change. I made a conscious decision to live healthy which included a healthy diet, being productive and walking, which grew into jogging.”

Learners also signed petitions calling for the front of package labelling and the increase of the sugary drinks tax to 20%. “This is to show policymakers that they are behind this call together with HEALA.”

According to the World Health Organization, “when nutrition labelling is readily noticeable, understandable and compelling, it has the potential to stimulate consumers to make informed healthier food choices and to drive reformulation of products, with manufacturers seeking to avoid disclosure of unfavourable nutrient content”.  – Health-e News

An edited version of this story was published Health24.


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