Our children are becoming more and more overweight, and it is seriously affecting their long-term health. You can make a difference.
"Please mom! Please! Please! Please, mom!"
Sounds familiar? As South Africa’s retailers en masse play havoc with our family dynamics, it is the stressed parent who bears the brunt. We’re not talking about drugs or alcohol. We are talking about a more insidious danger - sweets and chocolates crammed along the till point aisles in the majority of South African retail outlets. Seems harmless? It’s not.
Our children’s health is, or at least should be, of national concern. Childhood obesity is a growing problem, not only in South Africa, but worldwide. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has published that by 2010, more than an estimated 42 million children under 5 years of age were expected to be overweight or obese. In South Africa almost 20% of our children are overweight and 5% are already obese.
Obesity can contribute to heart, stroke and blood vessel diseases in later life. Healthy eating, along with exercise, is crucial if this global phenomenon is to be reversed.
When retailers deliberately place sweets, chocolates, crisps and other junk food items in the aisles leading up to till points, they place parents under undue and unfair pressure. While it is undoubtedly the parent’s duty to refuse to buy these items, many find the constant demands too much to bear and succumb more often than they should.
"Healthy eating is everyone's responsibility"
Can retailers simply shirk their responsibility to act fairly? The Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa (HSFSA) thinks not. Dr Vash Mungal-Singh, CEO of the HSFSA comments, ‘Yes, retailers are entitled to make their displays as appealing as possible. Yes, they are entitled to try and maximise sales and therefore profits, but when they target children with goods which are detrimental to the child’s health, then I believe that a moral issue comes into play.
"As a nation, it is everyone’s responsibility to encourage healthy eating and placing constant temptation in front of children is just not fair.
"I have a colleague who calls such aisles 'suicide gorges' and she’s hit the nail on the head. Every parent I know simply hates being caught in one of these aisles when they are with their children."
"Retailers can help us live healthier"
One of the dangers of our fast-paced society is that grabbing a quick snack on the run usually means sacrificing nutritional value. Retailers have an enormous role to play in reversing this problem. By making low-fat, low-sugar, and healthier snacks available to consumers, this trend could be reversed.
Vegetable sticks, raw nuts, dried fruit and wholewheat biscuits are all healthy alternatives and while some retailers do offer these items in the till-point aisles, their worthy efforts are undermined by the chocolate and crisps most often placed alongside them.
Food advertising to kids
The WHO is actively recommending the control of food marketing to children. A recent WHO resolution states that ‘...unhealthy diet is one of the main risk factors for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and that the risks presented by unhealthy diets start in childhood and build up throughout life.’
The resolution goes on to state that "food advertising to children is extensive" and "a significant amount of this marketing is for foods with a high content of fat, sugar or salt..."
Furthermore, another global coalition is addressing marketing unhealthy foods to our children. The Global NCD Alliance was created to motivate the UN Assembly to address the growing problem of NCD’s.
An estimated 80% of these diseases are as a result of lifestyle and therefore preventable. The chief risk factors are smoking, poor nutrition and lack of physical activity. Heart disease and strokes top the list as the world’s biggest NCD killers.
The HSFSA would like to hear from retailers on this point. Is the profit motivation really strong enough to endanger our children’s health or are there some retailers out there who are willing to buck the trend and place only healthy alternatives in the till-point aisles? Perhaps create separate aisles for adults with kids? All comments received from retailers will be published on the HSFSA website and any retailer taking up the challenge will be acknowledged on the site.
Dr Mungal-Singh continues, ‘I would like this open letter to all South Africa’s retailers to be viewed as a call to action. Let’s see who out there can rise to the challenge.
About the Heart & Stroke Foundation of South Africa
The HSFSA is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to reducing the incidence of cardiovascular disease through education. For more information please visit www.heartfoundation.co.za. Letters and comments from any and all South African retailers are very welcome and should be addressed to the HSFSA at firstname.lastname@example.org.’
Resources consulted: NCD Alliance: Proposed Outcomes Document for the United Nations High-Level Summit on Non-Communicable Diseases and World Health Organisation; WHO: Set of Recommendations on the Marketing of Foods and Non-Alcoholic Beverages to Children.