With one day left before the July 21st close of the public comment period for A new bill on mandatory food labels and restrictions on marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks, the Healthy Living Alliance (Heala) is calling on the government to strengthen proposed marketing restrictions – specifically, to put in place tighter limits on advertising and marketing to children.
Draft new regulations, called R3337Foods high in added sugars, fats, salt and any product containing artificial (non-sugar) sweeteners include mandatory warning labels on the front of packaging to reduce the risk of obesity and non-communicable diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
The draft regulations also propose long-overdue restrictions on the marketing and advertising of foods and beverages to children, who are particularly vulnerable to the effects of marketing, and are often the targets of “aggressive food and beverage advertising campaigns,” Heala says.
But the proposed marketing restrictions make up no more than one page of the 248-page document and don’t go far enough, Heala says, because it doesn’t completely ban all advertising directed at children.
Heala spokesperson Nzama Mbalati said, “Evidence shows that the best path to restrict advertising of unhealthy products is to ban outright.” Daily Maverick.
He said that often, where there are some limitations but not others, the industry may find loopholes and still succeed in implementing indirect marketing.
Read more at The Daily Maverick: The draft regulations aim to make warning labels on unhealthy foods mandatory by 2025
Mbalati said the previous food labeling and advertising regulation, R146 of 2010, dealt with “a very narrow concept of false or misleading advertising”, and that the comparison of the 2010 to the 2023 regulations was “apples and oranges” because the new regulations went much further and were generally a huge improvement.
R3337 serves an entirely different purpose, intended to better empower consumers to make healthier choices and protect children from tactics that have been shown to shape eating behaviors over the course of a lifetime. These regulations attempt to limit marketing techniques that have nothing to do with food itself.
An example is R3337’s prohibition on using celebrities, cartoon mascots, contests, or visions of positive family environments (eg, a “happy and caring family scenario”, as the regulation states) to promote their products.
“This has nothing to do with the food product itself, but it can entice kids to want products they wouldn’t otherwise buy,” Mbalati said.
This ban is also intended to prevent false associations being made between the advertised product and the products’ healthy or positive features, for example, when a fast food company sponsors the Olympic Games, creating the impression that the foods and beverages they sell may be healthy (even though those foods and beverages are unlikely to be consumed by competitive athletes).
Proposed new marketing and marketing regulations
The new mandatory warning label and marketing regulations, which are expected to be passed into law only in 2025, mandate the prominent placement on the front of the package of black and white triangular labels warning that the product is “high in sugar,” “high in saturated fat,” “high in salt,” and/or “contains artificial sweeteners.”
Focus group studies conducted in South Africa in 2020 and 2022 established that warning labels – specifically those black and white triangles proposed in the new regulations – are Easily understood by South Africans And Very effective in changing food purchasing choicesaway from unhealthy foods and drinks and towards healthy options.
almost 80% of canned foods On South African supermarket shelves they are highly processed or “ultra-processed,” containing excessive amounts of added sugars, salt, unhealthy fats, and chemical additives that make them irresistibly tasty.
Ultra-processed foods are often stripped of most naturally occurring nutrients and reconstituted with added chemicals such as emulsifiers, flavors, thickeners, stabilizers, sugars, other sweeteners, and hydrogenated fats (like the product: a very popular potato-based snack made with dried potatoes, modified starch, flavor enhancers, salt, and sweeteners) that would seem impossible in the form of potato chips.
About 13% of children in South Africa are obese – above the global average of 10% – which puts them at high risk of remaining obese and developing type 2 diabetes and other non-communicable diseases later in life.
In the year 2022, Prof Karen HoffmanDirector of the Center for Health Economics and Decision Sciences at the Wits School of Public Health Daily Maverick that if the government were “fully prepared” for what it called “the true cost of obesity, and … the conditions associated with being overweight in the country … there would be greater control over what is and is not advertised to children”.
Read more at The Daily Maverick: Redefining food safety: Lift SA laws governing food advertising aimed at children
current marketing regulations
The current regulations in South Africa governing food labeling (called R146) were published in 2010 and have not been updated since – although in the same year the World Health Organization issued a set of 12 recommendations on restricting or banning the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children.
R146 states only the most basic labeling requirements (product ingredients and manufacturer address) but has no marketing or advertising guidelines or restrictions.
The World Health Organization said at the time that it was “gravely concerned that in 2010 it was estimated that more than 42 million children under the age of five were overweight or obese, of whom nearly 35 million lived in developing countries”.
The 2010 recommendations “recognized the high and increasing prevalence of noncommunicable diseases [such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases] In low- and middle-income countries suffering from communicable diseases [such as HIV and TB] It continues to affect the poor, contributing to a double burden of disease that has serious implications for poverty reduction and economic development and widens health gaps between and within countries.”
Read more at The Daily Maverick: Taking a spoon for a knife fight – is South Africa ready for obesity rates to rise?
the 2010 WHO recommendation Urges Member States to “take the necessary measures to implement recommendations relating to the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children” and “to develop and/or strengthen existing policies aimed at reducing the impact on children of marketing foods rich in saturated fats, trans fatty acids, free sugars or salt.” (In 2022, new research highlights the long-term negative effects of non-sugar sweeteners on metabolism and cardiovascular health, which is why The World Health Organization now recommends limiting its usealso).
The WHO recommendation also encourages countries to “collaborate with civil society and with public and private stakeholders in implementing the set of recommendations regarding marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children in order to reduce the impact of such marketing, while ensuring that potential conflicts of interest are avoided.”
Conflict of interest has been a concern for South African health campaigners, who claim that food and beverage companies have improperly influenced government policy on food in the past. (One example: a revised draft of the Marketing and Advertising Regulations, an amendment to R146 called R429, was gazetted in May 2014 but then “discontinued”, according to sources Daily MaverickIt was not passed into law.)
Recently, researchers warned that industry’s influence on health policies “is greatest before the draft legislation is announced in South Africa.” Daily Maverick mentioned May 2022.
Lobbying—trying to influence the decision-making of government officials—is not illegal in South Africa, and is largely unregulated.
Daily Maverick requested comment from the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa on the proposed marketing restrictions in R3337, but had not received a response by the time of publication.
While Heala strongly supports the NHS regulation and believes it “can make a positive difference in protecting the health of all South Africans”, it still calls for a “total ban on marketing to children”, including limiting the advertising and sale of unhealthy products in or near schools and removing all advertisements for unhealthy food and drink from television during time windows showing children’s and family programmes.
Mbalati said the regulations are “not a complete answer to the harmful effects of marketing unhealthy products.” DM
Consumers are encouraged to submit their comments on R3337, an amendment to the Food, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act 1972, before midnight on Friday 21 July 2023 to:
R3337 may only be passed into law in 2025, due to the new National Health Insurance and Tobacco Bill already in Parliament, Philip Mokoena from Global health advocacy incubator previously said Daily Maverick.
Heala’s “Think Inside the Box” campaign takes place from July 14-27 at the Sandton Gautrain Station in the heart of the Sandton CBD, and features a series of life-size 3D “wire babies”, interactive sculptures filled with junk food and drink cans that visually represent the makeup of unhealthy diets and the amount of unhealthy food we consume. The campaign aims to raise awareness about The importance of warning labels on unhealthy foods and drinks.