At a recent Yoghurt Summit, it was noted that children born from 2000 onwards might, for the first time in many generations, have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

“South African children are now twice as overweight as their international counterparts and being overweight is a precursor for chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. If we want our children to reap the rewards of the bright future that their parents have been building for them, then parents need to ACT NOW. Highlighting the importance of this was the objective of this year’s Yoghurt Summit, titled Realising Children’s Potential,” said Marlinie Kotiah, Head of Corporate Affairs at Danone.

A raft of recently published research bears out Kotiah’s concerns. “Health Effects of Overweight and Obesity in 195 Countries over 25 years”[1], a study published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine in July 2017, reported that there are numerous serious health issues related to being overweight. These include cardiovascular and kidney diseases, diabetes, early onset metabolic syndrome, hypertension, many cancers and musculoskeletal disorders. Diabetes alone is a leading cause of kidney failure, cardiac arrest, strokes, leg amputation and blindness.

An author of the paper, Associate Professor Benn Sartorius of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, noted that “South Africa’s current increase in Body Mass Index (BMI) and overweight/obesity prevalence is of major concern and is much higher than most other global settings. The current and downstream health implications of this will be more than the already overburdened health care system can deal with if we do not act more vigorously and decisively. This is not to mention the societal and economic impacts of this epidemic.” [2]

Worryingly, many of those overweight South Africans are children. According to the Healthy Active Kids South Africa Report Card (HAKSA) launched in May 2017, one in four South African pre-schoolers is overweight or obese. This puts them at risk of being obese teenagers, as a 20-year study of South African children showed. Girls who were obese at 4-8 years of age were 42.3 times more likely to be obese at 16-18 years.  Boys who were obese at 4-8 years of age had 19.7 times increased odds of being obese at 16-18 years [3].

The World Obesity Forum estimates that nearly 4 million South African school children will be overweight or obese by 2025. The 2016 Global Burden of Disease[4] study published last year in The Lancet medical journal, reports that South Africans are spending a greater proportion of their lives suffering from chronic diseases. “Unless we act now, the health consequences of obesity will overburden the health care system and decreased productivity will stifle economic progress,” noted the South African Non-Communicable Diseases Alliance. [5]

The health of our children is in the hands of their parents and caregivers; who often feel overwhelmed by the information provided on what is good and what is not, and the issue is further complicated by the fact that parents use food as an ally to compensate for issues of guilt.

Dr Craig Nossel, Head of Vitality Wellness at Discovery, in the foreword to the previous HAKSA report, asked the question: Are we doing enough? Dr Phatho Zondi, CEO of the Sports Science Institute of South Africa, went further at the latest HAKSA launch, saying: “The solutions to better health lie in our own hands, from parent to child, educator to families, government to schools and communities and international trade environment and international agencies to member states.”

Danone’s response to these calls is the South African Yoghurt Initiative (SAYINI). Delegates at this year’s Yoghurt Summit heard international experts, such as Professor Angelo Tremblay, discussing recent data that shows how regular yoghurt consumption promotes body weight stability. It was made clear that if parents make small changes to their children’s diets, like including yoghurt daily, they could help their children reach their potential, avoid obesity and increase their chances of avoiding life-threatening diseases later in life.

“Eating well is not complicated but many consumers are looking for a silver bullet, magic pills and quick fixes,” says Kotiah. “Instead, they should be looking at how everyday foods which are accessible can make the difference.  For example, a review of 10 clinical studies of 46 011 children and adolescents has shown that children with a high dairy intake were 38% less likely to have childhood overweight/obesity; with each daily serving consumption, the percentage of body fat was reduced by 0.65% and the risk of overweight/obesity was 13% lower.” [6]

The simplest explanation is that regular consumption of healthful foods such as yoghurt results in decreased intake of less healthy foods containing high amounts of fat and/or sugar. There is also evidence to suggest that the high calcium and protein contents of yoghurt and other dairy foods influence appetite and energy intake. The proposed existence of a calcium-specific appetite control mechanism was also discussed. [7]

Vice-chairperson of the South African Medical Association, Mark Sonderup, recently told the media that “obesity is a common phenomenon on the continent. The reasons for it are multifaceted, but the main contributing factors are bad dietary habits and unhealthy behavioural patterns. He said the most effective way of preventing a child from becoming obese was for parents to change their eating habits if they did not follow a healthy diet and a physically active lifestyle.”

For all these reasons, the 1 Million Moms Pledge was born, encouraging 5 simple tips

  1. Eat breakfast every day
  2. Drink more water every day
  3. Have more vegetables and fruit every day
  4. Have milk, maas or yoghurt everyday
  5. Move more every day

Pledge now at www.knowyouryoghurt.co.za and make a choice to live better for you and your family. #MillionMoms

[1] https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1614362

[2] https://www.ukzn.ac.za/news/almost-a-third-of-sa-adults-are-obese-study-finding-2/

[3] https://uncch.pure.elsevier.com/en/publications/sex-differences-in-obesity-incidence-20-year-prospective-cohort-i-2

[4] https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/issue/vol390no10100/PIIS0140-6736(17)X0041-X

[5] https://www.sancda.org.za/obesity-a-ticking-time-bomb-in-south-africa-hsf-south-africa/

[6] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/293826965_Long-term_association_between_dairy_consumption_and_risk_of_childhood_obesity_a_systematic_review_and_meta-analysis_of_prospective_cohort_studies [accessed Oct 05 2018].

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26175486    

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