HEALTH Minister Aaron Motsoaledi on Friday revealed why many politicians suffer the curse of bulging stomachs and widening waistlines.

"The problem as a public representative is that there is food everywhere," he said during a human development cluster briefing in Parliament. "There is always an availability of food. That is the danger of this profession. That is the nature of this job."

Mr Motsoaledi said that even a prominent bishop had once complained to him that when he visited his congregations, he was plied with food. "It seems all of us have this problem of food everywhere," he said.

Mr Motsoaledi said he used "every available opportunity" in Cabinet meetings to lecture on high salt intake and healthy food, as it was important for politicians to follow proper diet and exercise regimes and set an example to the public.

He said he had declared war on trans fatty acids, which the food industry loved because they brought in more money. "But our bodies will never love them (trans fatty acids) - until the end of time."

Trans fats caused high blood pressure, heart disease and other health problems, the minister said, adding that they were "slowly killing us".

American products are packed with trans fats. "Our fear is that when Americans put something out, they go to Africa," he said. "When they push out their trans fatty acids, we must make a lot of noise. We want to protect ourselves."

The Department of Health has said it plans to follow in the footsteps of its US, Canadian, and European counterparts by introducing legislation to ban the use of trans fatty acids in food products.

Researchers at Oregon Health and Science University have found that people who eat a high amount of trans fats - found mainly in frozen, packaged, fast foods, baked goods, and margarine spreads - are more likely to have brain shrinkage and score lower on thinking and memory tests, compared with people who follow a healthy diet, low in trans fats and high in vitamins.

Mr Motsoaledi said he was also concerned about alcohol advertising and the message it was sending to young people.

During the only television soap opera he watched, Muvhango, he would see at least four advertisements for alcohol, he said. "They are using celebrities, sportsmen, models - very successful people - to tell young people that if you drink, you will be successful. That we cannot allow."

The ban on tobacco advertising, implemented by former health minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, had made a "very clear difference", Mr Motsoaledi said.

"There is a very clear indication that the ban on tobacco advertising is making a difference," he said. "South Africans are smoking less than they ever did."

He said health officials from many other countries had asked him how South Africa had been so successful in reducing its number of smokers.

"Even when you arrive at some airports in other countries you can smell the stale breath in the people. In South Africa, you do not have that," the minister said.

SAPA