In the Americas, 31 percent of children are overweight or obese.

Obesity in children is on the rise, and SA is now seeing the direct link with type 2 diabetes in earlier age groups as a result.

Clinical dietitian Katherine Megaw says that, in the past, it was referred to as “adult onset diabetes”. But these days, more children are affected by this lifestyle disease and it’s predicted that by 2025 every second or third woman in the country will have type 2 diabetes.

Megaw said type 2 diabetes could be turned around with lifestyle and dietary changes.

SA is ranked number four in the world for instances of obesity. In addition, the Western Cape leads the country in the number of obese people as a ratio to each square metre.

According to a study by pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline and independent marketing insight consultancy Added Value, 61 percent of South Africans are overweight, obese or morbidly obese.

The figure for children in the age group one to nine is 17 percent.

The 2010 Healthy Active Kids SA report card (2010 HAK report card) showed an increase in the prevalence of overweight and obese teenagers between 2002 and 2008.

The proportion of overweight teens had increased from 17 percent to 20 percent, while that in the obesity category was 5 percent, up from 4 percent.

Dietitians warned that as many as one third of children younger than six in the Western Cape were overweight.

The HAK report card also showed that nearly 45 percent of adolescents surveyed often bought from the school tuck shop, with more than one in five buying sweets, chocolates and chips.

Megaw, who may be heard on Western Cape radio station Kfm 94.5 every Thursday afternoon discussing with DJ Lee Downs the effects of childhood obesity, the solutions, and how to implement a positive nutrition culture in the home and schools, says good planning is key in avoiding fast food meals and unhealthy snacks.

Megaw recomments stews and soup. These meals are quick and easy to make. Parents can cook double the amount and freeze small portions for later in the week. Contrary to popular belief, the food retains all vitamins and nutritional value during the freezing process.

She describes SA as a semi-Third World country with several First World attributes.

Access to fast food is one of the First World attributes.

Megaw says a parallel process is unfolding in the country – high levels of malnutrition among the poor, and high levels of obesity among people with more income and access to fast food.

Even Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has declared war on the harmful trans fats contained in many fast foods.

He has said trans fats – unsaturated man-made fats that are a key ingredient in fast foods – are contributors to high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and cancer.

He has said his ministry is targeting these lifestyle diseases. He has indicated that the Department of Health is to restrict the levels of salt and fatty acids in food products. - Cape Argus