Some encouraging health news

April 1, 2013

Hello. Thank you for joining us.  I’m Jim Tedder in Washington.

Today we travel to South Africa to examine police violence. We will also hear about pirates in Puntland and Somalia.  But first, some encouraging health news. A new study suggests that we might all eat better if the cost of healthy foods was lower.

The South Africa health insurance company Discovery offered a rebate on purchases of fresh fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods. The company promised to return up to 25 percent of the purchase price to the buyer.

This rebate was part of a larger program to get South Africans to eat healthy foods. Roland Sturm works for the America-based Rand Corporation. He and his team wanted to learn what influence the program has made.

“This has been going on for four years now, with hundreds of thousands of people. So a unique opportunity to really evaluate what can a discount on healthy foods do in terms of shopping patterns, in terms of diet, in terms of obesity.” 

To find out, the researchers studied information from supermarket barcodes, which recorded what kinds of food
people bought.
All the buyers in the study used credit cards. This enabled the
researchers to study all their purchases between 2009 and 2012.
Roland Sturm noted the results.

“A 25 percent discount on healthy foods will increase the proportion of healthy foods by about 10 percent.”

At the same time, purchases of unhealthy food went down by six percent. Unhealthy foods were said to include salty between-meal snacks, sugary soft drinks and candy.

Food available under the rebate program was clearly marked with signs in the store and on sales receipts. For example, canned fruits and vegetables were fine unless sugar or salt were added.

Mr. Sturm says the message is clear. Lowering the cost of nutritionally healthy foods can get people to make major improvements in their diet. Researcher Sturm’s paper was published by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Legal reforms since the end of apartheid in South Africa have not ended mistrust between citizens and the police. Several cases of police violence in recent years have harmed the country’s image. Christopher Cruise provides details.

Nine South African policemen are waiting trial, charged with dragging a Mozambican taxi driver behind their vehicle. He later died in detention. Last August, police fired on a group of striking miners in Marikana, killing 34.

However, the government continues to depend on the police to respond to citizens’ protests. Eight thousand community members of the Thabo Mbeki settlement recently demonstrated to seek government assistance with housing and electricity. A demonstrator protested their treatment.

"This morning they (police) were shooting at us, and we were hitting them with stones. Because there's nothing we can do. We have to do something if they're shooting at us."

The Pretoria-based Institute of Security Studies, or I.S.S., notes that the police are increasingly being called to intervene in situations like the settlement protest. As a result, the I.S.S. says police have become the image of a government that the protesters charge is failing its citizens and creating deep distrust.

Violence as well as differences between rich and poor have increased in South Africa in the past 20 years. A criminologist from Cape Town University says politicians are dealing with the increased violence by giving police orders to react severely.

Elrena Van der Spuy says that in 2008, the security minister at the time told policemen not to fire warning shots. But, she said the official told the officers that they had one shot and that it must be a killing shot.  She says police violence does not come from single incidents of bad behavior.

"The political climate itself then has created a more fertile state of conditions within which police's excessive use of force has taken on almost a systemic feature rather than just located in some wayward individual cops."   

Experts say the problem of police violence is partially a result of South Africa’s history.  When the African

National Congress took power in 1994, it acted to end the famously violent behavior of the police force. It also placed black Africans into police jobs.

Observers say no police officers held positions of higher responsibility during the country’s apartheid years. And they say this condition led to a lack of expert knowledge. I’m Christopher Cruise.

The self-governing area of Puntland in Somalia is perhaps known best for its pirates and smuggling. The pirates have hijacked many ships and crewmembers and demanded millions of dollars. Now there are efforts to develop Puntland and improve the quality of life for its people. Caty Weaver has details.

Paul Crook is chief technical advisor in Somalia for the International Labor Organization, the ILO.  Mr. Crook notes the difficulties created by the area’s image.

“We see the power of the negative. The negative image is one of piracy… that lovely word that conjures up so much.  The influence of international criminality and extremist organizations which still are around;  Al Qaeda manifests itself with al Shabab, for example. “

Al Shabab is the main militant group in Somalia. The group has been the target of a long offensive by African Union, Somali and Kenyan forces. A lot of territory has been recaptured. But the group has not been defeated.

Poverty and piracy are linked. Young, unemployed men see piracy as a way to improve the quality of their lives and that of their families. Mr. Crook says the international community should do more to break that link by offering choices. He wants young men to feel part of society by having chances for employment.

Puntland is in northeastern Somalia.  Its leaders declared it an autonomous state in 1998. The self-declared independent Somaliland lies to the west. Somaliland has been demanding international recognition as a separate nation. Mr. Crook says it is unclear whether Puntland would reunite with Somalia once peace returns.

He says the opinion about re-uniting changes almost monthly. But he says people understand that cooperation is necessary. Mr. Crook said, “Clearly the case is people see that they are part of a greater nation, if not state, and see the need for collaboration. “

And, he says, the ILO clearly has an important part in helping by supporting employment-led economic development. I’m Caty Weaver.

And I’m Jim Tedder. Thank you for being with us. By the way, April is Jazz History Month in the United States. So we will leave you with “Take the ‘A’ Train,” a great jazz song by America’s Duke Ellington.  See you tomorrow.