Too much available food encourages overeating. Photo: Reuters

Johannesburg - Too much available food - which encourages overeating - is a bigger cause of the obesity epidemic than our sedentary lifestyles, a study has shown.

The study, published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organisation (WHO), looked at the food energy supply and obesity rates in 69 countries and found that, in most countries, the food supply had increased so substantially over the past four decades that this alone could explain the huge rise in people’s weight.

“Oversupply of available calories is a likely driver of overconsumption of those calories and can explain the weight gain,” said lead author Stefanie Vandevijvere from the University of Auckland, New Zealand.

Increasing urbanisation, car dependence and sedentary occupations contributed to the obesity epidemic, she added.

There has been an increasing trend in obesity over the past few decades in South Africans, said Dr Celeste Naudé, a senior researcher and dietitian at Stellenbosch University’s Centre for Evidence-based Health Care.

“Overweight and obesity now affects a greater proportion of the population than under-nutrition,” she said.

South Africans’ food energy increase rose by 397 kilojoules per person a day (equal to one extra candy bar a day) between 1998 and 2003, according to Vandevijvere’s study. “Much of the increase in available kilojoules over the decades has come from ultra-processed food products, which are highly palatable, relatively inexpensive and widely advertised,” said Vandevijvere.

According to Naudé, there has been an increase in the sales of almost all categories of packaged food in South Africa, including snack bars, ready meals and noodles, as well as street food and fast food.

“Per capita intake of sugar-sweetened beverages is increasing. Compared with a worldwide average of 89 Coca-Cola products per person a year, in 2010 South Africans consumed 254 Coca-Cola products a year,” said Naudé.

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