Fix hunger and you fix health, activists tell new ministers

Many families live in 'perpetual hunger', says the Healthy Living Alliance.
Many families live in 'perpetual hunger', says the Healthy Living Alliance.
Image: Alon Skuy

Hunger is your target, activists told the new team in charge of the health department on Saturday.

The Healthy Living Alliance urged new health minister Joe Phaahla and his deputy, Sibongiseni Dhlomo, to prioritise equitable access to healthy food.

The coalition of civil society organisations working for food justice said the appointments come when SA is experiencing unprecedented levels of hunger.

About 10-million people live in households affected by hunger, according to the most recent National Income Dynamics Study–Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM).

Alliance head Nzama Mbalati said many families experience “perpetual” hunger, with 1.8-million households and 400,000 children experiencing food shortages for more than a year.

“Women, who were significantly more likely to shield children from hunger, may be worst affected by food insecurity,” said Mbalati.

“SA also has a growing burden of obesity and related non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, stroke and heart diseases that are driven — in part — by unequal access to healthy food.

“Many of these NCDs are now among the leading causes of death in SA and have been shown to be strong risk factors for severe Covid-19 disease.”

Mbalati said lack of access to affordable and nutritious food was a health crisis. “Today, our new ministers have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to prioritise reforms to ensure equitable access to food and nutrition, such as a 20% health promotion levy and better food warning labels,” he said.

“Disease is fuelled by poverty and inequality. Without a concerted intervention to address food and nutrition insecurity, we exact a high cost to our future potential.”

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