No more ‘unhealthy’ food ads for children

2014-08-15 00:00

THE food and beverages industry gathered this week to thrash out a response to draft health regulations that ban any form of marketing of “unhealthy” food and drinks to children.

The stringent measures form part of Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi’s campaign against obesity and ill-health, and are in line with strategies to increase life expectancy and reduce health costs.

Detailed guidelines accompanying the regulations also ban the use of “celebrities, sport stars, cartoon-type character, puppet or computer animation” to promote unhealthy foods, and also the use of competitions, gifts and collectable items commonly used by fast-food outlets such as McDonalds for its Happy Meals.

Also banned are any commercial marketing or promotion of unhealthy food on radio or TV between 6 am and 9 pm, and also the portrayal of “happy, caring family” scenarios to promote these foods.

Branding and marketing on school grounds and “settings where children gather” would also be banned, thus affecting sponsored signboards by fizzy drink brands. Vending machines would in future be unbranded in these settings and only “suitable beverages such as pure water, 100% fruit juices and milk may be made available in appropriate container sizes that allow for portion control”.

The ad ban extends across online and print media platforms, and includes sponsorships for media and sports clubs.

The regulations form part of broader food labelling reforms under the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act. Definitions of what fails the health test are provided, targeting “energy-dense, nutrient-poor food and beverages” that are high in fat, sugar or sodium.

Lawyer and food engineer Janusz Luterek from the SA Association for Food Science and Technology attended the meeting of the Consumer Goods Council of SA (CGCSA) this week. He said that it was hard to argue with the government’s declaration of war on obesity. However, the crackdown could not be applied overnight. “The rules are very far reaching … I don’t think there is any country in the world that has this level of restriction.”

Food would need to pass a three-stage test to determine if it was “healthy”, and the implications were that “anybody who sells any type of non-fresh food — literally anything other than fresh fruit and veg, water, 100% juice and milk — cannot advertise to children”.

Francina Mokhoane, head of the Food Safety Initiative at the CGCSA, would not be drawn on specific concerns as they hoped to engage positively. “We hope to reach common ground. We understand what the department is trying to do. We believe we need to consult amicably.”

McDonalds is also putting a submission together to “address areas of concern, highlight potential gaps … and draw on global best practices,” said McDonalds corporate affairs director Sechaba Motsieloa.

Professor Melvyn Freeman, chief director of non-communicable diseases in the Department of Health, said it was imperative to curb the rampant promotion of unhealthy eating habits.

Deadline for submissions is August 29. The regulations and guidelines are at

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