Mayor takes aim at sugary drinks

Patricia de Lille

Ahead of International Diabetes Day tomorrow on 14 November 2017, the city of Cape Town announces the launch of a new initiative to reduce non-communicable diseases (NCDs) among its residents. The initiative, delivered with support from the Partnership for Healthy Cities, aims to address risk factors for the leading underlying cause of natural death across the city: Diabetes – the silent killer that was responsible for more than one in 20 deaths in South Africa in 2015. This is what the mayor, Patricia de Lille, had to say:

Over the coming months, the city will implement an informative public awareness campaign to show residents how they can help to reduce their risk of obesity and preventable disease, including diabetes, by avoiding a proven risk factor: sugary drinks. Adopting a strong leadership position on the issue, the city will also move towards reducing the accessibility of sugary drinks within all city of Cape Town-controlled buildings.

Earlier this year, we were proud to announce that Cape Town had joined the Partnership for Healthy Cities. Today, we see the first fruits of that decision with this new initiative to improve the health of Cape Town’s men, women and children, including city workers and those who visit our offices every day.

People want government to act to reduce obesity. These interventions show that we are leading the way in helping to promote proper nutrition and healthier lifestyles that reduce the risk of diabetes, which is claiming the health and lives of too many people within our city. Please follow our lead and take action today to live a healthier life that is better for you, your family and your community.

Apart from directly increasing the risk of developing diabetes, the intake of sugary drinks also has an indirect impact on the likelihood of developing diabetes through increasing obesity.

In Cape Town, the awareness and interventions we will be running through our Healthy Living programme will be aimed at all communities in Cape Town, including city staff and our most vulnerable residents.

Our Healthy Cities programme is building on the foundational initiatives we have established to promote and encourage the adoption of healthy lifestyles beyond eating habits.

These initiatives include investment in outdoor gyms. We currently have 47 outdoor gyms across Cape Town, which provide the opportunity for Capetonians to live a healthier lifestyle, with the goal of improving and promoting overall fitness levels and physical health.

All gym pieces have been designed with maximum safety in mind and are suitable for adults of all ages and fitness levels.

Our Social Services Directorate is also offering Zumba dance classes in areas across Cape Town, providing a fun and interactive way of keeping fit.

We are also seeing a growing running community in Cape Town, with regular races each weekend of between 1 000 and 27 000 people participating in the biggest races. This is encouraging as more people choose a healthy lifestyle utilising infrastructure put in place by the city, as well as that provided by our natural environment, which we strive to protect.

The effects of the Cape Town initiative would be reinforced by policy action currently being considered to improve health at the national level. Recent research shows significant popular support for government action to reduce obesity and unhealthy behaviours that are risk factors for NCDs, including diabetes:

  • 83% of South African adults believe that it is important for government to address the country’s obesity problem
  • 76% of South African adults agree that government should pass and enforce policies that discourage the consumption of sugary drinks and junk foods
  • 70% of South African adults support the proposed Health Promotion Levy, if the money collected will be invested in public programmes

Cape Town’s initiative has been developed due to our participation in the Partnership for Healthy Cities, a global network of cities committed to reducing NCDs and injuries, led by World Health Organisation Global Ambassador for NCDs and former New York City Mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg. Vital Strategies, an implementing partner in the Partnership for Health Cities, will provide technical support for the development and implementation of Cape Town’s public awareness campaign.

Facts about obesity, disease and sugary drinks

  • Sugary drink consumption is a growing issue in South Africa, particularly in urban areas such as Cape Town
  • Scientific research shows that the sugar in any carbonated, sugar-sweetened drink enters the bloodstream and leads to fat build-up – in and around vital organs. This visceral fat increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, strokes, and some cancers
  • Diabetes and heart disease are now affecting the most economically-active portion of South Africa’s population, including in Cape Town
  • The latest Stats SA data shows that across South Africa, 55,5% of deaths are attributable to NCDs, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer
  • This marks the continuation of a trend: since 2009, NCDs have caused more deaths than injuries and communicable disease combined
  • Six of the top-10 leading underlying natural causes of death are NCDs
  • Across South Africa, diabetes is the second leading underlying natural cause of death, after TB, causing more than one in 20 deaths (5,4%) in 2015. It ranked fifth as recently as 2013
  • Diabetes has been identified as the leading underlying natural cause of death in the Western Cape
  • Sugary drinks have a direct impact on diabetes, increasing the risk of diagnosis by 26%
  • In addition, there is an indirect impact by increasing obesity, which also leads to diabetes
  • Across South Africa, around 69% of South African women and 39% of men are either overweight or obese

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