Project Ground Zero – Building a healthy nation from the ground up

There are many things we see in South Africa that don’t seem to make sense. One of these is the phenomenon of obese mothers raising under-nourished children. How could this be? No parent of sound mind would take food out of their children’s mouths; it defies genetics and any sense of logic. Fortunately, Gary Taubes has explained this anomaly using basic Banting principles: our culture of poverty and excessive carbohydrate consumption is leaving children with little to none of the nutrients required to grow, while making adults sick, sluggish and obese.

By Jayne Bullen

Foundation Manager for The Noakes Foundation

It therefore comes as no surprise that the greatest demographic of morbidly obese people in South Africa is also the poorest and most disempowered, consisting largely of women living in townships feeding large families from virtually nothing. These women often reach dangerous levels of obesity – not because they are eating more than they should, but because they are eating cheap, nasty and nutrient-deficient foods due to insufficient resources and limited access to adequate dietary education. With the same diet, their children are at risk of stunted physical and mental development.

Along with obesity, people living in poor communities are getting sick at alarming rates; they are dying of illnesses caused by simple nutritional mismanagement. This poverty fueled food culture is a human rights issue at its core – people are being miseducated about what to put inside their bodies and it’s hurting the poorest communities the most.

“The Jive diet”

White starch and sugary drinks have become the norm for many South Africans. Parents can often afford to give their children only one meal per day with a 2L bottle of Jive soft drink to fill their stomachs. This may be shocking, but it is understandable given that the ultra-cheap beverage is sold for less than half the price of the same volume of bottled water.

In government hospitals, this has been dubbed the KFC and Jive diet. Staff members spot patients with this lifestyle a mile away: they are in their mid-thirties and upwards, obese, and need treatment for diabetes and heart disease. Countless people with this description are being admitted for heart attacks, often with severe diabetes, and are put onto medication with a warning that they will have another heart attack if they don’t change their eating habits. The next day, their families arrive with KFC buckets and bottles of Jive, and everything is forgotten. The patients are advised to follow a government issued ‘recommended diet’ of high carbs, and return to their communities where they don’t have the support, education or infrastructure to make significant changes to their eating habits and prolong their lives.

Where’s the sense of urgency?

The Noakes Foundation realised that clinical nutrition and wellness research is often conducted in ways that prioritise researchers’ needs above those of the community as a whole. Because it is easier to use stable, manageable and easily measurable sample bases that allow for scientifically controlled outcomes, the bulk of formal clinical trials tend to use athletes (who typically have access to expert dietary advice) instead of everyday individuals. This is understandable – scientists are faced with critical questions about the effects of certain nutrients on the body and need the most reliable candidates to help answer them as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, the poorest South Africans are getting fatter, sicker and less empowered by their eating.

Ground Zero

Enter Project Ground Zero. In the hopes of one day revolutionising the eating habits of working class South Africans, The Noakes Foundation decided to start at “ground zero” by researching the effects of a new LCHF diet on 40 women living in Ocean View. Led by Dr Hassina Kajee, lead physician at Groote Schuur Hospital’s high care unit, strategist Jayne Bullen, and trauma counselor Euodia Samson, researchers are helping these participants to Bant for five weeks while monitoring various aspects of their health including weight, blood results, and any diet-centered challenges they may face along the way.

In the run-up to the study, each participant was given a food diary to complete. These diaries indicated that some participants were consuming over 42 teaspoons of sugar per day! Many are overweight, and some are obese, medicated and ill. Real Meal Revolution, The Noakes Foundation’s founding partner, put together a ‘Banting on a budget’ meal plan for the participants, and continues to work on new ways to bring Banting to those who need it most.

Project Ground Zero is just the first step in a national dietary transformation, as data gathered throughout the five weeks of the study will provide significant insight into the experiences and challenges of those who suffer the most.

Looking to the future

Curbing the obesity epidemic in our country is going to require a multi-sectoral, multi-disciplinary and culturally inclusive approach – an entire revolution. We will need to work together, support those in need, and, essentially, change the world.

We know it isn’t going to be simple. Like Banting, it will require a societal makeover. We need the funds to evolve this initiative into a national project that will stop parents feeding their kids Jive for lunch and help them get better access to safe drinking water and healthy food. We need to show the community that healthy eating doesn’t have to cost a fortune.

We have a huge task ahead of us! Who’s in?

The Noakes Foundation is looking for sponsors, volunteers, donors and project partners to make this small seed of a project a big reality, and fast.

If your life and health has been transformed by your own Banting journey, drop us a line or help sponsor one of the ladies and become a part of the solution. To get started on your Banting journey, join our Beginner Banting Online Course and take advantage of a free week to help get you started, but don't just take our word for it, feel the benefits of an LCHF lifestyle for yourself.

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