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Chronic hunger, obesity rates alarming in SA

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There are roughly 805 million people around the world that live with chronic hunger and undernourishment, a clear indication as to the scale of extreme poverty affecting the global population. The issue, along with matters like food security and high costs in basic food, are some of the topics that will take precedent on World Food Day this coming Friday.

On a local front, the Centre of Excellence in Food Security at the University of the Western Cape estimates that about 13% of the South African population suffer from chronic hunger; a statistic usually seen in countries far less well off than South Africa. The centre also believes around 9% of citizens suffer from what it describes as ‘hidden hunger’.

“These are people that while they may be getting enough energy and they may not feel hungry, they are still not getting the nutrients they need. They are deficient things like vitamin A, vitamin B and other things that are vital for human growth,” explained Professor Julian May, the centre’s director.

Beyond the issue of malnutrition and poverty is an alarming increase in obesity in South Africa, with many citizens consuming ‘bulky foods’ with little to no nutritional value. While the countries food system has been described as efficient, the population being fed at a relatively low cost compared to internationally, it has come at two major costs.

“One is that we are shedding jobs in our food system, and ultimately the (biggest) problem we are facing in SA is unemployment. We need a system that doesn’t only feed people, but also employs people. The second problem is that the cost of healthier food is greater than that of food that is not healthy,” he declared.

Another area of concern is food wastage, not only within the household but also prior to food products even reaching supermarkets and stores. While there are no concrete figure as to how much food is being wasted in the country, May acknowledged that there are attempts to try and reduce such wastage.

“There are things like the food bank, which I recently saw at the Cape Town Epping Market which have found ways to reduce wastage by identifying food that is still fit to eat that may have gone past its sell by date.

It is however an area that needs quite careful scientific work, as well as institutions to do that,” he noted.

World Food Day takes place on Friday 16th October. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)

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