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Health minister eyes 'junk food' industry

13 September 2011 - 02:38 By HARRIET MCLEA

Fast-food companies will soon be forbidden from marketing their "unhealthy" products on TV during children's programmes.

Free toys handed out with fast-food meals as part of a "kiddies package" might also be prohibited as part of the Department of Health's plans to regulate the "junk food industry".

Speaking at a summit on non-communicable diseases in Johannesburg yesterday, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi announced that he plans to target marketing campaigns that he claims are making children fat.

"Our children are bombarded with adverts to eat potato chips, fizzy drinks, sweets and junk food," he said.

He asked if it would be possible to "make fruit and vegetables cheaper" and "junk food more expensive".

About 23% of South African children are classified as obese, which Motsoaledi said has disastrous long-term effects on the health of the nation and makes the "cost of chronic care quite enormous".

Overweight children have a higher risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart attacks later in life.

Motsoaledi warned that companies that could not make substantial profits in regulated markets would turn to places like South Africa to make profits.

"These people who are selling this junk food are going to find their way into the African market, which is their dumping ground," he said.

"Bad" trans-fatty acids have already been regulated. Alcohol advertising faces tighter regulation and salt-content regulations are at the top of the department's list.

A high salt intake is linked to a high risk of high blood pressure.

White South Africans consume an average of 9.8g of salt a day and black South Africans consume 7.8g a day, Motsoaledi said.

The recommended daily consumption of salt is between 4g and 6g.

Following his May announcement that the salt content of bread would be regulated, five more food types have been added to the list in an attempt to reduce heart disease.

Professor Melvyn Freeman, the department's manager for non-communicable diseases, said that, after Motsoaledi's announcement, the bread industry had asked the department: "Why should we be targeted?"

Gravies and spices, brine chicken, cereals, margarine and salty snacks will have strict salt-content regulation.

Though other foods, such as soya sauce, have a very high salt content, Freeman said that national consumption of soya sauce was low and it has been left off the list.

It is estimated that 6500 deaths a year can be prevented by reducing the salt content of bread alone.

Regulating the salt content of bread and of other products will be phased in over five to 10 years because the department is "worried that people will stop eating products" if the salt content is changed suddenly.

Each year, maximum salt contents will be slightly reduced.