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Can we raise healthy children in an unhealthy country?

Many South African’s simply can’t afford healthy food so how can low-income parents ensure their children get all the nutrition they need?

Do some countries have a firmer focus on health and wellbeing than others? The answer is a resounding ‘yes’. And, sadly, our country doesn’t rank well in this department.

In fact, sunny South Africa has been ranked as the most unhealthy country in the world in a survey of 150 countries, which isn’t good news for parents wanting to bring up healthy children.

What are we doing wrong? Is ‘healthy food’ too expensive for South Africans? Why are we dying at a younger age? And, has the coronavirus pandemic affected the way we eat?

What the study revealed

According to a  study conducted by the insurance comparison website Compare The Market, South Africa scored a disappointing 23.33%, while Japan (ranked the healthiest country) scored 79.02%. This is not the first time either that the well-respected Indigo Index found South Africa at the bottom of its list. South Africa has frightfully high obesity statistics with 28.3% of South African adults considered obese and the number of obese children also climbing.

Why does SA have a high obesity rate?

The reason for South Africa’s high obesity rate is scarier than just people making unhealthy choices.

Several studies on the cost of a healthy diet in South Africa have found that many South African’s simply can’t afford healthy food.

“Energy-dense foods are relatively cheap sources of energy but typically have a low nutrient density. People with a low income may therefore select a relatively less healthy diet, which explains the association between obesity and low socioeconomic status,” says professor of nutrition, Norman J. Temple of Athabasca University.

This is confirmed by the research done by the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity Group (PMBEJD), which revealed that tighter budgets have led to families having to make tough calls when it comes to grocery purchases. The research shows that parents are having to prioritise core foods that satiate hungry stomachs in place of those that offer high-value nutrition for their children.

Life expectancy in SA

The life expectancy for the average South African is just over 63 years old, lower than the pension age. The survey also focused on deaths caused by cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, or chronic respiratory disease based on statistics provided by The World Health Organisation (WHO). A previous study by WHO found that HIV and TB and the lack of medical attention for people in disadvantaged areas also contributed to South Africa’s low life expectancy.

How to ensure your children eat a healthy and balanced diet on a budget

Here are six suggestions for saving money while still ensuring that your children eat healthily.

  1. Using a shopping list is one of the simplest ways to stay healthy on a budget. They not only assist you in making healthier food choices, but they also assist you in sticking to your weekly schedule and keeping track of your spending.
  2. Stock up on fruits and vegetables when they’re on sale. Purchase extras and store them in the freezer for future meals.
  3. Look for produce that is in season. It is usually much less expensive due to its accessibility.
  4. Frozen and canned vegetables (look for low-sodium varieties) are usually less expensive than fresh vegetables. Because frozen foods are preserved within hours of harvest, consumers benefit from a higher intake of key nutrients.
  5. Whole grains, such as brown rice, farro, barley, and oats, as well as beans and lentils, should be on your shopping list. These are low-cost items that provide substance and nutritional benefits to a variety of meals. These are high in fibre and protein and will keep your child fuller for longer.
  6. Diversify your meat purchases and stock up on meats on sale that can be frozen for later use. Fish, turkey, and skinless white meat chicken are some of the healthiest animal proteins to consume.


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