How can SA end malnutrition and curb obesity?


Improving an individual’s nutritional status helps break the cycle of poverty, generates economic growth and leads to benefits for families, communities and whole countries.

Good nutrition signals the realisation of people’s rights to food and health. This is according to Professor Xikombiso Mbhenyane, the Head of the Division of Human Nutrition at Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences.

Read: South Africa's fight for the right for food

Mbhenyane says good nutrition is a foundation for human development and an essential driver of sustainable development.

“According to the Global Nutrition report of 2015, nearly half of all countries face multiple burdens of malnutrition from poor child growth, micronutrient deficiency to adult overweight and obesity”.

She notes that the recently released report on global nutrition (IFRPRC, 2015) sets a scene for the post 2015 Millennium Development Goals transition to the Sustainable Development Goals 2030.

Putting an end to malnutrition

The Sustainable Development Goals’ target is to end malnutrition of all forms by 2030. This will require concrete interventions by all stakeholders embedded in key development sectors and holistically at the global level.

The Global Nutrition report makes recommendations for a series of SMART actions that have been aggregated in to ten calls for actions.

These actions include:

- Elevating the role of nutrition across the sustainable development goals

- Strengthening national accountability on nutrition targets

- Strengthening nutrition for growth process

- Delivering better nutrition outcomes with existing funding

- Increasing funding for nutrition actions

- Implementing actions to address malnutrition in all its forms

- Actively building alliances between nutrition and climate change communities around common goals

- Developing indicators of the impact of food systems on nutrition and health outcomes

- Building a greater shared understanding of the roles and responsibilities of industry in nutrition, and

- Identifying the data gaps that hinder effective action and filling them.

·   MMbhenyane says all countries are to set their actions and targets guided by the above global recommendations.

Nutrition in South Africa

In the South African context, the growing evidence of the rise of obesity and nutrition-related non-communicable diseases on one hand, and the existence of food insecurity on the other hand, in the context of malnutrition makes it increasingly clear that food systems are drivers of nutrition outcomes.

Read: Obesity and poor nutrition plague SA

“Nutrition interventions to address malnutrition in all its forms should be directed at integrating actions with all sectors and stakeholders, including education; sport and recreation; social development; transport; cooperative governance and traditional affairs; trade and industry; and public service and administration,” she says.

The Department of Health’s actions to address malnutrition in all its forms are stated in the Road Map for Nutrition in South Africa (2013 -2017).

“According to this map, among other actions, nutrition education and information on healthy eating and health risks associated with poor diets are recommended, using existing guidelines for chronic diseases of lifestyle, the South African Food Based Dietary Guidelines and Food guides,” Mbhenyane explains.

Thus, the theme for South African nutrition awareness week this year is “Healthy Eating in the workplace”.

The general guidelines for all adults on healthy eating are:

- Eat three healthy meals a day consisting of a variety of food items

- Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits everyday

- Use fat and foods containing sugars sparingly.

“Individuals are thus entrusted with a responsibility for taking actions that will contribute positively to a healthy quality of life,” Mbhenyane concludes.

Read more:

Good nutrition on a tight budget

The state of hunger in South Africa

54 million toddlers in Africa go hungry

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