The Minister of Healthy

2011-11-12 17:43

Aaron Motsoaledi, our health minister, is known for his outspoken stance on unhealthy lifestyle habits.

Zinhle Mapumulo
speaks to him about his plans to bring back physical education, the challenges of healthy parenting and what he eats for breakfast.

Has anything changed since you warned members of Parliament about the dangers of unhealthy diets and lack of exercise back in May 2009?
I would not say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ because the warning was not only directed at them but at society in general.However, as leaders they should lead by example. Our schedules are hectic and we often find it difficult to eat healthily and exercise, but that should not be an excuse.

Do you practise what you preach?
Yes I do. I try to keep to a healthy diet by eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Instead of frying the meat I boil or grill it. I also walk for about 30 minutes a day if time permits.

Do you think democracy is making South Africans fat?
Absolutely. Nobody exercises these days yet we eat all the wrong foods.

Take children for instance, back in the day we used to walk about 8km to school, but today’s kids are driven to school in their parents’ cars. They are dropped and picked up at the school gate before heading home, where they sit in front of the television the whole day with a bowl full of crisps.

The only exercise kids do today is when they move around the house.

What is government doing about this?
We are bringing back physical education at school. It should be included in the curriculum next year.We are also planning to introduce legislation that will allow government to regulate salt content and trans-fatty acids in foods.

Who is to blame for 25% of South African teens and 17% of children being either overweight or obese?
Adults and society are to blame.

Kids do not know the difference between right and wrong foods – they eat what you give them.We are the ones who feed our children unhealthy foods and hide behind the notion that “kids hate veggies”, forgetting that we are putting them at risk of developing non-communicable diseases like diabetes.

Are there many children who are developing lifestyle diseases in South Africa? How bad is it?

It is very bad. In fact, it is really scary when you think about it because lifestyle diseases used to affect adults only, but now we see children with diabetes and hypertension as well.

Non-communicable diseases are no longer a health concern but a developmental issue in this country (see sidebar).

What role do computer games and social media play in slowing our children down to an unhealthy halt?
I have said this many times. Children spend too much time playing video games instead of playing outside.

This is dangerous for society because we are grooming a generation of overweight and obese people. I am not saying that computer games should be done away with, but children should be encouraged to also go outside and play.

You have young children.
How are their eating habits?
I cannot lie and say that they eat healthy foods all the time.

I struggle to make them eat vegetables, but what I have learned is that kids copy everything you do. When I eat vegetables and boiled meat, they want to eat the same food as well.

What Motsoaledi eats
» Corn Flakes are a must for breakfast
» If he eats eggs, they must be boiled
» Fresh fruit and vegetables are part of his daily diet
» His fish must be grilled
» Meat must be boiled or grilled

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