An appetite for collaboration

“Public-private collaboration is essential if we hope to effectively address the negative outcomes of our food systems, starting with the nutritional siege our children are under,” says Tatjana von Bormann, Senior Manager of WWF South Africa’s Policy and Futures Unit.

This is the key message of a report released by WWF South Africa and the Southern Africa Food Lab today (29 October 2018).

Von Bormann’s comments come in the wake of a recent study in the International Journal of Epidemiology, which reports that the rate of childhood obesity in South Africa has doubled in only six years meaning we are fast becoming the world leaders in childhood obesity.

At the same time, the most recent South African Demographic and Health Survey reports that more than 27% of children under five are stunted; a condition resulting primarily from under-nutrition whereby children have a low height to age ratio. The long-term impacts of stunting include poor cognitive, educational, health, career and reproductive outcomes.

The report, An Appetite for Collaboration, details insights gained through interviews with representatives of the sector bodies, business initiatives, food manufacturers, retailers, food producers, suppliers, NGOs, government departments and academia, as well as researchers and consultants.

Dr Scott Drimie, Director of the Southern Africa Food Lab, a multi-stakeholder initiative that exists to promote creative responses to the problem of hunger, says, “The health of our children is indicative of the health of their parents. Non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some cancers are now among the top causes of death in the country at around 40%. At the same time, the prevalence of overweight and obesity is close on 58% for men and 71% for women. Resultant health risks are most pronounced for women, children and those with low incomes, reflecting and reinforcing historic socio-economic disparities.”

“The triple burden of malnutrition is the seemingly contradictory coexistence of under-nutrition (which results in stunting and wasting), over-nutrition (which results in overweight and obesity) and micro-nutrient deficiencies (which exacerbate the other two). In fact, these issues are less a result of food quantity, or consumption than they are of food choices, or nutrition.”

An Appetite for Collaboration, funded by the WWF Green Trust, suggests that while more effective government policy and regulatory intervention are critical to addressing some of the systemic issues driving food choices, in the absence of an enabling policy environment, it is incumbent upon those involved in the food sector to consider the potential role of collaborative industry initiatives as a means of addressing nutrition-related health challenges.

“The report suggests a number of such initiatives,” explains Drimie. “The Food Lab and WWF will now be taking these forward in an effort to comprehensively address the nutritional challenges impacting the majority of South Africans”.

Download the report here: An Appetite for Collaboration.