The nutrition transition and the human right to adequate food for adolescents in the Cape Town metropolitan area: Implications for nutrition policy
Changes in diet and nutrition, along with other lifestyle changes during the last decades, have affected the nutrition-related disease profile in many developing countries. This phenomenon, or process, is known as ‘The Nutrition Transition’. Several studies on adolescents in South Africa have shown that overweight and obesity are increasing, possibly due to this process. The aim of the present study was to extend our knowledge on the nutrition transition and the factors that influence adolescents’ choice of food in South Africa, and to develop policy recommendations that could facilitate the adolescents’ right to adequate food as laid down in the South African Constitutional Bill of Rights. The data were collected through focus groups with 25 female learners (grade 10, 14–16years) from urban public schools in Cape Town and key informant interviews with 10 school staff members. The most important nutritional concerns that emerged from the analyses, included skipping breakfast and the consumption of unhealthy tuck shop food. In terms of the human right to adequate food, these findings reflected lack of availability and access to adequate food within the household, at schools, and in the community. In addition, the study showed that there were no or few opportunities for physical activity for adolescents during and after school hours. Social factors, including social norms and a need to conform to peer group pressure, appeared to affect the behaviour of learners considerably. Traditional foods appeared to have lost their importance, while learners preferred to consume fast foods and to adopt a more westernised diet connected to affluence and social acceptance. Traditional and more “Western” body perceptions co-existed among the study participants. The nutrition transition in South Africa is of a complex nature because of large differences that exist amongst different ethnic and socioeconomic groups. Policy decisions should be based on an understanding of these diverse factors. The media and the food industry should be encouraged to work with government in influencing adolescents to make healthy food choices. Cultural perceptions which may lead to unhealthy choices and lifestyle need to be addressed while at the same time respecting people’s cultural pride and human dignity. It is recommended that human rights principles are used purposively in the future in policy formulations, interventions, evaluation and monitoring.
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