On 8 February 2021, Nestlé South Africa convened representatives of Pick n Pay, the University of the Free State and former Executive Director of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), Professor Demetre Labadarios, to discuss a consolidated view of the state of childhood nutrition in South Africa.
The webinar was hosted under the banner of Nestlé’s flagship nutrition programme, Nestlé for Healthier Kids, which aims to educate parents and caregivers on how to make better food choices for their children. The programme has a global ambition to support 50 million children to live healthier lives by 2030.
According to the 2019 South African Child Gauge Report, child obesity continues to rise in South Africa. At least 13% of children under five are overweight or obese, while one in four has chronic malnutrition and stunted growth. This increasingly concerning reality has the potential to worsen and result in approximately 3.91 million overweight and obese school children by 2025.
Zumi Njongwe, Marketing Director at Nestlé ESAR explained, “Nestlé for Healthier Kids is dedicated to educate parents and caregivers on how to make healthier food choices for their children in a practical and easy to implement way. As part of our efforts, we established this group of experts to raise awareness of the impact of unhealthy eating habits on children and engage with multiple credible stakeholders on the roles to be played in supporting individuals and families access healthy food and make healthier food choices daily.”
The webinar focused on opportunities for collaboration between public and private sectors, innovation in nutrition marketing, as well as community nutrition.
A key takeout of the discussion was that many communities often don’t have the benefit of scientific knowledge and evidence-based information. “This provides an opportunity to correct nutrition misinformation and to promote nutrition in low-income areas where information often does not reach those who need it,” said Dr Lucia Meko, Lecturer of Nutrition and Dietetics at University of the Free State.
The spread of fast food and the increased availability of high energy, highly processed, nutrient-poor foods is also driving obesity, and, in many cases, these are more affordable than what people perceive healthy foods to be. Juliet Fearnhead, Dietitian at Pick n Pay added, “To address this, educate on how to value a healthier basket of foods and uncomplicate how to eat healthier through simple, effective messaging to help people to plan healthier meals based on basic foodstuffs.”
Prof Demetre Labadarios concluded by noting that this panel discussion was the first time in his long career he had found himself in the presence of two giants in the field of nutrition at the same time, referring to Nestlé and Pick n Pay. He urged all present to apply their minds to ways of focusing the considerable logistical, marketing, and other resources of these two companies onto helping solve South Africa’s child nutrition problems.