South Africa's big fat obesity problem
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Globally, more than two billion children and adults suffer from health issues related to them being overweight or obese, and in South Africa alone, 10 million adults and 1.6million children are obese. The report found these statistics for South Africa to be high.
Dr Christopher Murray, who authored the study, said people’s resolutions to lose weight should become year-round commitments to prevent future weight gain.
Catherine Pereira, spokesperson of the Association of Dietetics in South Africa, said the study reported the overall prevalence of obesity (defined as a Body Mass Index over 30) to be 5% among children and 12% among adults.
“This is high, but the statistics for South Africa are even higher. The latest South African data is the South African Demographic and Health Survey conducted in 2016, which reported that 35.9% of women aged 15 to 49 years, and a much lower amount of 7.9% of men, are obese. We also know that a further 30% of women in South Africa are overweight, meaning that approximately 66% of women in SA are either overweight or obese.
“This means that the prevalence of obesity in South African women is three times higher than the global average, and this is concerning. The reason this is alarming is that obesity is linked to increased disease and death,” Pereira said.
She added that the study reported that almost 70% of the deaths related to being overweight and obese were because of cardiovascular disease.
“We know that this is one of the biggest causes of death in South Africa. Another worrying finding from this study was that the prevalence of childhood obesity is increasing at a higher rate or speed than has been previously reported.”
Pereira said unhealthy diets, insufficient physical activity, poor early childhood feeding practices and lack of knowledge were the key contributors to obesity.
“I think that planning meals and being prepared is one of the most important strategies for families to improve on their eating habits. When meals are not planned, then food choices are made when people are already hungry, and convenience, cost and taste all influence decision-making.
“Try to always make sure that you have a bottle of water with you, so that you have something healthy to drink when thirsty.
“Carry snacks like a piece of fruit or some nuts, so that you have something to eat when hungry and that you prevent a situation where you become so hungry that you will eat anything and probably end up overeating. Start trying to listen to hunger and satiety cues - stop eating when you are full, not when the plate is empty; try to avoid excessive portion sizes and remember that drinks can contain many calories too,” she said.
Pereira added that the food environment also needed to be improved, and this was often the responsibility of the government and the food industry.
“Interventions such as restricting the advertising of unhealthy foods to children, improving school meals, using taxation to reduce consumption of unhealthy foods and providing subsidies to increase intake of healthy foods, are all interventions that are in the process of being implemented in South Africa.
“We all have a role to play in assisting adults, parents and children to make healthier food choices.”
Kerryn Gibson, a Durban-based dietitian, echoed Pereira’s comments, adding that eating habits were passed down through generations, and therefore weight problems were also being inherited. Poor eating habits would often result in weight gain.
“Weight problems usually start in infancy, where children are gaining weight faster than they should be. If this starts as young as infancy, then they are more likely to be overweight or obese adults.
“Getting eating habits right from as young as infancy is important in affecting the health and weight as adults,” she said.