Governments play an essential role in creating a healthy food environment and regulating the
information available to consumers on which they can base their food choices. Over the past
few decades, the policy environment has encouraged the production of high-energy, nutrientpoor
foods. This may have been caused by the focus since the 1970s on the production of
sufficient energy, because food insecurity is still a reality in the world today. Diets developed
into monotonous food choices, devoid of diversity and with an increased intake of energydense
foods, which are high fat, salt and sugar. Over time these diets have led to a high
incidence of obesity and related non-communicable diseases (NCDs). The impact of obesity
and NCDs has caught the attention of policy makers because it puts pressure on the health
care system and has a serious economic impact. Research has shown that nutrition-sensitive
policies may be a key tool to improve the healthiness of the food environment.
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health
(2004) compelled governments to subscribe to actions to decrease the high rates of obesity
and related NCDs. South Africa (SA) became a signatory of this document. However, so far
SA is not yet part of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement which aims to unite
governments, civil society, the United Nations (UN), private sector and academia in an effort
to improve nutrition for all people.
This study aimed to evaluate the state of nutrition-sensitive policy in SA by determining and
evaluating the broader nutrition policy framework and investigating two of the identified policies
(labelling and food-based dietary guidelines (FBDGs)) in more detail, focusing particularly on
dairy products. The study found that some nutrition-sensitive policies have been introduced in SA, which
include the implementation of FBDGs in 2001, food labelling regulations (2012), some degree
of food composition policy since 2012, the tax exemption of some healthy foods (2010) and a
national NCD policy (2013). The revised FBDGs were published in 2012 and include a
separate guideline for milk, maas and yoghurt, thus encouraging the consumption of these
dairy products as part of a prudent diet.
The publication of new labelling regulations in 2010 caused a change in the availability of
product information on yoghurt labels between 2009 and 2013, namely a significant decrease
in health benefit claims. The decrease in health benefit claims now limits health and nutritionrelated
information available to consumers to base food choices on.
The cultural role of maas in the South African diet and the change in the nutritional profile of
maas over time was also determined in this study. The study found that maas, a traditional
South African food product, forms part of the heritage of many South Africans. It was also
found that the nutritional profile of maas has changed significantly over the past 20 years.
However, it is still a good source of protein, fat and calcium in the diet. The study concluded
that maas remains a culturally relevant and nutritious product which is rightly included in the
Even though these policy tools have been implemented, gaps in nutrition-sensitive policies
and infrastructure remain, including the promotion of and education relating to healthy foods,
governance, leadership and monitoring of policy. These gaps must be addressed urgently by
means of a multi-sectorial approach towards creating a healthier food environment and
increasing the availability of product information to consumers, to ensure that the incidences
of undernutrition, obesity and NCDs are addressed and if possible, eliminated.