Research just released by a South African food company shows that more than 50% of respondents say they gained weight during the Covid-19 lockdown – but it also shows that more people are starting to read food labels properly.
According to the report entitled “The State of Nutrition in South Africa” more than four fifths of respondents indicated that their food consumption and behaviour had changed during the national lockdown although not everyone indicated they had picked up bad habits.
Overall, research found that respondents who were generally healthier in other aspects of their lives were more likely to transfer those positive behaviours to their food choices and eating habits.
Those who exercise three or more times a week were more likely to be health conscious in other aspects of their diet and lifestyle. The Tiger Brands sponsored research showed that consumers who exercise placed higher importance on the nutritional value and weight management aspects when scrutinising labels.
According to the report, close to 50% of respondents polled say they picked up weight during the Covid-19 lockdown.
“Standardised, accurate and simple food nutrition labels that highlight food nutrient content will benefit the consumer,” the company said in a media statement.
Nutrition experts have been calling for a better way to communicate healthy food options to consumers.
“We sincerely hope that this report will become a mainstay in public clinics, private hospitals, doctor’s rooms and school libraries,” said Tiger Brands Chief Marketing Officer Becky Opdyke.
“Our aim is for this report to help educate South Africans about the importance of healthy diets and balanced lifestyles,” she said.
“Nutrition facts need to be presented in a legible manner with colour-coded explanations and easy-to-understand symbols and diagrams that also explain portion sizes,” she said.
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But the average only 56% of consumers read food nutrition labels when considering their food choices.
The research also shows South Africans sacrifice the nutritional value of food in favour of taste and value for money while the pace of life means many buyers prioritise ready-made meals instead of cooking their own using fresh ingredients.
The report also predicts a global shift towards planetary diets that prioritise a variety of plant-based foods and low amounts of animal-based foods, refined grains, added sugars and unhealthy fats.
“There are a number of ways to tackle these from formal and accessible science-based nutrition education at school and community level to simple and accurate food nutrition labels. Consumers also need to be better educated on the reading of food nutrition labels,” said Opdyke.
Other recommendations made during a panel discussion at the launch of the report include the establishment of community vegetables gardens, a secondary food market for ‘ugly produce’, and ongoing partnerships between the food industry and food collection charities to help redistribute food to the most vulnerable.
The company also launched the Eat Well Live Well logo which will be used on Tiger Brands foods to indicate healthy options. South Africans have an average Body Mass Index (BMI) of 35.1 which is significantly higher than the global average of 24.7. This classifies the average South African as class 2 obese, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).