Nutrition at the centre of sustainable corporate wellness

We live in an era when many of us, not just aspire to, but have an expectation that living well for longer is a real possibility. Increased awareness of the impact of lifestyle on health has made it clear we can’t just rely on medical industries to reach this goal – we play the most important part. It is a part that is played not at all in sweeps of grandeur, but in the small details of our daily choices – What will we eat? When we will exercise? How will we get sufficient rest and sleep? What do we need to do to actively manage our stress today?

Corporate Wellness Week, from 2 to 6 July, emphasises the need to properly consider our time spent at work when we answer these questions. We’re the master of our own universe at home – we are able to muster up great salads and fresh food inspired dishes; take yoga classes, mountain bike, meditate and walk the dog along the beach in our free time. But what happens when we go to work?

If you are a corporate employee, chances are that you eat nearly half of your daily meals and snacks at work, and your physical activity is low. Typically, home is the haven of well-deserved respite, relaxation and free choice; while the workplace, driven by the demand for efficiencies, is stressful, demanding and limiting. This is why we like weekends.

But two days a week of healthy living is not enough. We need workplaces that also support our wellness, simply because that is where we spend most of our time. This is not just an agenda from the employee perspective. As ADSA spokesperson and Registered Dietitian, Lerato Radebe points out: “Wellness in the workplace is not only a means to keep employees happy, but has tremendous effects on absenteeism, presenteeism and productivity.”

Lerato explains that wellness is an active process of becoming aware of and making choices towards a healthy and fulfilling life. “Wellness is more than being free from illness, it is a dynamic process of change and growth. WHO, the World Health Organisation, describes it as: “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

Nathalie Mat, another Registered Dietitian and ADSA spokesperson, weighs in: “Nutrition is one of the easiest modifiable factors that controls a person’s energy levels and productivity. A company’s culture can perpetuate or inhibit healthy eating. I have experience of many companies where health is still not prioritized, leading to poor nutrition and health overall.”

So, what can South African business do to promote a sustainable culture of wellness in the workplace?

With nutrition at the centre of wellness, ADSA experts offer these guidelines:

  • Create and maintain higher levels of wellness awareness through ongoing advocacy, engaging a Registered Dietitian and other wellness professionals through a dedicated wellness programme;
  • Make wellness exciting by avoiding tick-box exercises or initiatives that are punitive in spirit. Wellness programmes need to be dynamic and up to date with latest trends that are interesting, value-added and that inspire employees to make lifestyle changes;
  • Combat rising healthcare costs by rewarding employees’ participation in your corporate wellness programme through rebates on health insurance;
  • Make healthy eating the workplace norm with healthy meeting snacks, healthy options in the canteen, water as the primary drink and bowls of fresh fruit;
  • Have a dietitian available on site and facilitate dietitian-led support groups as a great way to foster healthy eating without forcing programmes on employees.

 

To find a Registered Dietitian in your area visit http://www.adsa.org.za/Public/


The Low Down on South Africa’s Sugar Tax

The Minister of Finance announced in the February 2016 National Budget a decision to introduce a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), with effect from 1 April 2017, to help reduce excessive sugar intake by South Africans. The Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) welcomes this step as one part of the solution to address the obesity problem and improve the health of South Africans.

How much sugar do South Africans really consume?

When you think of sugar-sweetened beverages, the first thing that comes to mind is the regular fizzy drink, but the term encompasses far more than that. SSBs are beverages containing added sweeteners that provide energy (‘calories’ or kilojoules) such as sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup or fruit-juice concentrates. This includes carbonated drinks (fizzy soft drinks and energy drinks), non-carbonated drinks (sports drinks, iced teas, vitamin water drinks and juice concentrates), sweetened milk drinks and sweetened fruit juices. And many of us do not realise just how much sugar is found in these drinks. For example, a 330 ml bottle of iced tea has a little over 6 teaspoons of sugar!

ADSA is concerned that the intake of added sugars (sugars added to foods and drinks during processing by the food manufacturing companies, cook or consumer) is increasing in South Africa, both in adults and children. Some estimate that children typically consume approximately 40-60 g/day of added sugar, possibly rising to as much as 100 g/day in adolescents. High intakes of added sugar, particularly as SSBs, has been shown to lead to weight gain and cause dental caries. The added sugar in these drinks makes them high in energy (kilojoules). Because these drinks don’t make us feel full in the same way that eating food does, most of us don’t reduce our food intake to compensate, making it easy to consume too many kilojoules. Over time, these extra kilojoules can cause one to become overweight, putting us at risk for diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. Obesity is already a massive problem in South Africa, with 2 in 3 women and 1 in 3 men being overweight or obese, as well as almost 1 in 4 children.

What is ADSA’s recommendation for sugar intake?

ADSA supports the recommendations by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the South African Food-Based Dietary Guidelines that we need to reduce the intake of beverages and foods that contain added sugars, such as sugar-sweetened beverages, sweetened yoghurts, frozen desserts, some breakfast cereals, ready-to-use sauces, cereal bars, health, savoury and sweet biscuits, baked products, canned or packaged fruit products, sweets and chocolates. The WHO advises reducing the intake of free sugars found in foods and beverages (including added sugars, but excluding sugars naturally present in fresh fruits, vegetables and milk) to less than 10% of total energy (kilojoule) intake for the day (i.e. 50 g of sugar, which is approximately 12 teaspoons per day), with a conditional recommendation to further reduce intake to 5% of total energy (approximately 6 teaspoons per day) for additional health benefits. The South African Food-Based Dietary Guidelines also advise to ‘use sugar and foods and drinks high in sugar sparingly’. To put this into perspective, a 500 ml bottle of a carbonated drink will provide your maximum sugar allowance for an entire day!

The sugar tax – is it a good idea?

The proposed tax on SSBs will mean roughly a 20% tax will be added on to sugary drinks, which is intended to decrease the purchase and consumption of SSBs. Encouragingly, in Mexico, a sugar tax has reduced sugary drink sales by 12% in the first year. The sugar tax is likely to affect shelf prices, but will also motivate manufacturers to reduce the amount of sugar added to their products.

ADSA welcomes the proposed tax on SSBs, but acknowledges that the sugar tax is only part of the solution to address the growing obesity problem. Just as taxing tobacco does not reduce or stop smoking by all people, taxing SSBs will not reduce or stop all purchasing and consumption of SSBs and reduce obesity on its own. Obesity is a complex condition, and sugar is not the only cause. There is a need for multiple interventions across a variety of different sectors to address unhealthy diets and lifestyles and have an impact on the obesity epidemic. ADSA recommends that revenue generated from the tax should go towards health promoting interventions, such as subsidies to reduce the costs of fruits and vegetables, education around healthy choices and creating an enabling environment to make those healthier choices easier.

In addition to reducing the consumption of SSBs to prevent obesity and promote long-term health, ADSA continues to recommend a healthy diet which includes whole grains, fruit, vegetables, nuts, legumes, healthy oils, proteins such as lean meats and seafood, and a reduced intake of processed meats and salt, accompanied by regular physical activity.

ADSA’s detailed Position Statement on the Proposed Taxation of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages, with references, can be accessed here: http://www.adsa.org.za/Portals/14/Documents/2016/Nov/ADSA%20Position%20Statement%20on%20Sugar%20Tax_Final_28%20Nov%202016.pdf

 


CALCULATE YOUR HIDDEN SALT

The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA) joins forces with World Action on Salt and Health (WASH) to increase awareness on salt and health.

In 2016 the emphasis of World Salt Awareness Week is on hidden salt. This is the salt in our foods that we don’t see or even taste, but that still contributes to our total salt intake. To help the public evaluate their salt intake, HSFSA and Unilever South Africa will also introduce a first in SA – a digital salt calculator.

Salt and health

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a daily salt limit of 5 grams per day (about one teaspoon). In a 2011 South African study more than half of adults exceeded 10 grams salt a day, at least doubling this recommendation1. The main consequence of excessive salt intake is raised blood pressure, which in turn leads to heart diseases and strokes. In fact the WHO regards raised blood pressure as the single biggest contributor to heart diseases worldwide2.

Given that a devastating 1 in every 3 adults in South Africa suffer from high blood pressure, a reduction in salt intake is an easy win to prevent high blood pressure, improve existing high blood pressure, and thereby reduce the 220 fatalities from heart disease and strokes every day.

Salt and our food

The food we buy already contains salt. In fact 55% of the salt we consume is from salt added during the manufacturing process. Often we cannot see the salt, neither can we taste it – hence the term hidden salt. In higher-income communities the contribution of hidden salt can be as high as 75% of total salt intake3. Hidden salt includes much more than potato chips, take-outs and boerewors. Foods such as breakfast cereals, breads, ready-made meals, sauces, spreads, cheeses and processed meats all contain hidden salts and can increase salt intake considerably.

Reducing salt intake requires two broad approaches: reduce salt added to food during manufacturing, and reduce the excessive use of salt and salty products at home.

Salt legislation is around the corner

In 2013 Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi signed progressive legislation to reduce the salt content of a range of highly salted foods in South Africa. June 2016 is the first deadline for this stepwise reduction programme. With only 3 months to go, all eyes will be on South Africa as the first country to legislate such a wide range of foods. Early indications suggest that industry is making excellent progress towards it.

Is salt legislation enough?

On its own legislation will reduce per capita salt intake by 0.85 g per day. Whilst this is enough to start a shift in cardiovascular mortality, much more is needed4. The next step is to empower consumers to buy lower salt options and use less salt at home.

Empowering South Africans to know their own salt intake

When 1 000 South Africans were asked whether they believed they eat too much salt, 83% said no. Yet the study results further showed that 75% in reality consumed excessive salt5. Hidden salt is the main reason for this discrepancy, as salt you cannot taste or see is not fully accounted for.

The HSFSA in partnership with Unilever South Africa is introducing a new salt calculator to help South Africans evaluate their salt intake to start making better food choices. The salt calculator estimates salt intake based on the frequency by which common foods are consumed, and then provides feedback on current intake and tips on making better food choices.

Hlanzeka Mpanza, dietitian at Unilever says “Only when you know which particular foods in your diet contributes the most to your total intake, can you effectively cut down on hidden salt. You can start to choose lower salt options by comparing products”.

HSFSA encourages members of the public to use the new salt calculator to measure their salt intake, and to start making changes. The equation is simple: check your salt – change your salt.

The salt calculator went live on Monday 29 February at www.saltcalculator.co.za

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Breastfeeding and Work – Let’s Make it Work!

ADSA_Breastfeeding Logo_30July15

Every year, World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated from 1-7 August and this year’s theme is ‘Breastfeeding and Work – Let’s make it work!’.

Optimal infant and young child feeding is defined by the World Health Organisation as ‘exclusive breastfeeding from birth for the first six months of life and starting from six months of age, feeding safe and appropriate complementary foods, along with continued breastfeeding for up to two years of age or beyond’

South Africa’s paediatric food-based dietary guidelines state ‘Give only breast milk, and no other foods or liquids, to your baby for the first six months of life’.

“Women from all communities need to be supported to continue to breastfeed when they return to work, and everyone should work together to ensure that breastfeeding mothers receive the support they need”, says ADSA spokesperson, Catherine Pereira. Most women do not receive adequate maternity protection and returning to work is often a barrier to breastfeeding because a mother becomes separated from her baby for long periods of time. Many mothers struggle to balance breastfeeding and paid work, therefore stopping breastfeeding earlier than they should.

Did you know?

  • Breastfeeding mothers in South Africa are protected by the Basic Conditions of Employment Act and are legally entitled to two 30-minute breaks per day for breastfeeding or expressing milk if their infants are younger than 6-months!
  • The Act also states that an employee is legally entitled to at least four consecutive months maternity leave, during which time breastfeeding can be established at home.
  • In 2011, the Tshwane Declaration of Support for Breastfeeding in South Africa was signed by the Minister of Health and many other stakeholders. This stated that “the promotion, protection and support of breastfeeding requires commitment and action from all stakeholders, including government and legislators, community leaders, traditional leaders and healers, civil society, HCWs and managers, researchers, the private sector, employers, the women’s sector, the media and every citizen”.

How can we ensure that the workplace is breastfeeding- and mother-friendly?

  • Have a breastfeeding-friendly room, corner or space in your workplace where mothers can breastfeed their babies or express milk.
  • Ensure that there are refrigeration facilities for mothers to store breast milk if they are expressing.
  • Support part-time work arrangements for breastfeeding staff.
  • Make sure that your employees or employers know the legal rights of breastfeeding women.
  • Show a positive attitude towards friends and colleagues that are breastfeeding mothers.
  • If you are a woman who managed to breastfeed when you went back to work, share your experiences as inspiration for other women.
  • Fathers and partners should read up on breastfeeding and how they can support women.
  • Breastfeeding women should form or join support groups, such as La Leche League or contact a lactation consultant.
  • Listen to women’s needs and respect a woman’s decision on infant feeding and offer support for her choice without prejudice.

Do you know why breastfeeding is so important for your baby?

  • Give your baby only breast milk for the first six months; no other food or drink is needed at this age. If a baby is given other food and drink, they will consume less breast milk and receive less nutrition.
  • Babies are protected against infection when they are breastfed. In addition to containing all of the nutrients your baby needs for the first six months, breast milk also contains antibodies that help to protect your baby against illness.

Did you know that a dietitian can assist you with breastfeeding? 

Dietitians are trained to assist mothers with breastfeeding as well as to assist mothers with continued breastfeeding when returning to work. Click here to find a Registered Dietitian in your area visit the Association for Dietetics in South Africa’s website.

For information and resources on WBW 2015, including posters, infographics and other documents from around the world, visit www.worldbreastfeedingweek.org