Government must act to tackle this big, fat crisis

12 October 2017 - 23:11 By The Times Editorial
Image: iStock

The global health crisis of obesity threatens to soon provide us with an alarming and bizarre statistic: within the next four years the number of obese people on the planet could outnumber those suffering from malnutrition.

The study published in The Lancet medical journal this week showed that globally there are 10 times as many obese children now than in 1975. The number of obese boys, for example, increased to 74million from 6million.

This is not a problem confined to the developed West where the fast-food culture has long been a concern. The problem is truly global with every region fattening up like a Christmas goose.

South Africa is as flabby as the rest of our global cousins. The latest South African Demographic and Health Survey shows up to 70% of South African women are overweight and that child obesity is running at more than double the rate of other African countries.

Discovery Vitality's ObeCity Survey released this week estimates the economic effect of obesity on South Africa to be about R700-billion a year - a truly startling figure.

The obesity explosion is a public health crisis and this week's data adds weight to
the country's moves to introduce a sugar
tax in the face of vigorous opposition from industry.

But a sugar tax is not a solution in itself and is unlikely on its own to drive significant change in consumer behaviour towards healthier eating habits.

The government should look to subsidies of healthy foods which go further than the laudable existing zero VAT rating on a basket of 19 basic foods, as well as considering a "fat tax" on unhealthy fast foods as other countries are introducing.

No South African should be obese - or malnourished - because they are too poor to eat healthy food.