Food Label Study lands PhD student top honours at Symposium

by Engela Duvenage


MelviTodd-small.jpg​PhD student Melvi Todd was recognised by the South African Medical Research Council (MRC) after the 10th annual Biomedical Research and Innovation Platform (BRIP) Symposium. Todd received the award for the best PhD oral presentation. The online event was hosted online from 19 to 20 October 2020.

About the event, which attracted speakers and postgraduate student presentations on a wide range of topics in medical science, Dr Christo Muller, interim director of BRIP, said: “The major goal of the symposium was to offer young, aspiring scientists the opportunity to showcase their research within a constructive learning environment that encourages scientific exchange and the sharing of knowledge.”

Todd is a registered PhD student in Stellenbosch University’s Department of Food Science and has been completing her research through ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij. She is supported by the DSI/ARCI Honeybush Project and the National Research Foundation. Her supervisors are Prof Lizette Joubert (ARC and SU), Prof Gunnar Sigge (SU) and Prof Timothy Guetterman (University of Michigan).

As part of her talk, Todd took stock of what stakeholders such as food scientists, health professionals and several others think about food labels, and where opportunities for value creation exist. For example, the opportunity to make health claims related to non-nutritive compounds that show potential for reduction of risk factors associated with NCD’s, such as those present in endemic plant species like Honeybush.

“I am in particular looking at how labelling can be improved so that people can actually understand and correctly interpret how healthy the food is that they buy,” she explains.

“Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) that account for 71% of deaths globally show little respect for gender, age or even income. Food labels are one of many tools that can assist consumers in making healthy food choices, potentially contributing to relief of the NCD burden,” she says.

She says the challenges in the use and interpretation of food labels in South Africa mainly relate to readability and comprehensibility. Based on the evidence about the country’s rising NCD burden, it seems that current food labels are not having a meaningful impact on consumers’ understanding of the link between food choices and their health.

The insights from this exploratory mixed methods research study will provide greater understanding to other researchers and policymakers involved with food labelling about how to tackle the issue better.

Although her work takes a holistic view of the food industry, it will hopefully also shed light on how food labels can be used to adequately and accurately represent the health benefits that researchers have already ascribed to honeybush tea.