Diet-related non-communicable diseases in South Africa: determinants and policy responses
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Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are the leading cause of death globally and they are on the rise both in low- and middle-income countries, with South Africa being no exception. Implicated in this upward trend in the country is an observed change in diet - a transition from traditional foods, to what has come to be known as the 'western' diet, i.e. more energy-dense, processed foods, more foods of animal origin, and more added sugar, salt and fat. Increasingly, international research links rapidly changing food environment with escalating chronic disease, i.e. it implicates population-level dietary change over individual factors such as knowledge, attitudes and behaviours. Environmental and/or policy interventions can be some of the most effective strategies for creating healthier food environments. This chapter explores the link between the rise in diet-related NCDs, their proximal determinants (specifically an observed change in diet patterns), contributing environmental factors, what is currently being done or recommended to address this internationally, and the most relevant national-level policies for South Africa. The authors conclude that to improve dietary patterns and reduce chronic diseases in South Africa will require a sustained public health effort that addresses environmental factors and the conditions in which people live and make choices. Overall, positive policies have been made at national level; however, many initiatives have suffered from a lack of concerted action. Key actions will be to reduce the intake of unhealthy foods and make healthy foods more available, affordable and acceptable in South Africa.
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