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World Obesity Day: Gqeberha crowned unhealthiest city in Mzansi

In 2022, the South African Sugar Journalism revealed that 7 in 10 women and 3 in 10 men in South Africa are overweight or obese. Picture:

In 2022, the South African Sugar Journalism revealed that 7 in 10 women and 3 in 10 men in South Africa are overweight or obese. Picture:

Published Mar 4, 2023


According to World Health Organization (WHO), obesity rates have nearly tripled since 1975, and have increased almost five times in children and adolescents, affecting people of all ages from all social groups in both developed and developing countries, reaching epidemic proportions globally.

And South Africa is no exception as the country is ranked among the unhealthiest countries in the world.

In 2022, the South African Sugar Journalism revealed that 7 in 10 women and 3 in 10 men in South Africa are overweight or obese.

What is more alarming in the recent statistics is that 1 in 7 children in South Africa, between the ages of 6 and 14, are overweight or obese, and over 13% of children under 5 are overweight or obese.

Discovery Vitality also weighed in on the issue of obesity with the recent launch of the “ObeCity Index” ahead of World Obesity Day.

On Wednesday, March 1, Discovery Vitality announced the results of a national study that was conducted among its members to reveal which city in South Africa is leading in terms of obesity.

The results show that Vitality members in Cape Town have the healthiest weight, with Johannesburg coming second, Durban third, with Gqeberha taking the last spot.

The ObeCity healthy weight ranking lists the healthiest to least healthy cities as follows.

  1. Cape Town
  2. Johannesburg
  3. Durban
  4. Pretoria
  5. Bloemfontein
  6. Gqeberha

“We analysed almost 300 000 Vitality Health Checks completed across South Africa in 2022 to rank the cities according to the proportion of Vitality members who have a healthy weight,” said Discovery Vitality CEO Dinesh Govender.

“Globally, research shows good nutrition and physical activity are important for managing weight. That is why we also analysed members’ physical activity and food purchasing data to give us insights into our members’ exercise and eating habits.”

Though genetics may play a part in obesity and excessive weight, the main cause of obesity is poor nutrition, lack of physical activity and psychological issues.

“The other aspect of obesity is the association between depression, anxiety and mood disorder and unhealthy eating and that is a primary drive,” commented Johannesburg-based Endocrinologist, Dr Sundeep Ruder.

“Mind issues can lead to obesity through behavioural change and hormonal changes, cortisol can go up, adrenalin can go up, and the constant release of hormones can have negative effects on your weight. So there is an indirect effect through behaviour change and mood and a direct effect through hormones as well.”

University of North-West Professor of Nutrition, Salome Kruger, highlighted the importance of eating whole food instead of convenient foods.

“The simplest way to prevent obesity is to eat whole foods, so that’s real food, and that includes fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, oats, brown rice, nuts, beans, fish and eggs,” said Professor Kruger.

“Try to stay away from overly processed food; food from the packets and convenience food. I know this is difficult because mothers and caregivers don’t have time in their busy schedules … some people live alone and don’t cook and load shedding is also making it difficult to cook, but we try to eat home cooked at least three to four times a week.

Dr Mosima Mabunda, Head of Wellness at Discovery Vitality, added that in tackling overweight and obesity, we must first ensure the scales are balanced when we measure for these conditions.

“Overweight and obesity are defined as excessive fat accumulation that may impair health. Body mass index or BMI (weight in relation to height) is most widely used in clinical settings. This is due to it being easy to measure and calculate. It has also been shown to be a good proxy for health risks associated with excess weight.”

“BMI, calculated as a person's weight in kilograms divided by the square of their height in metres, is also a well-known predictor of health and mortality outcomes. Globally, research shows that a person’s risk of death increases at a BMI ranges higher than 25. Those with a BMI range over 30 face the highest health risks.”

Vitality has launched a new health programme, “Vitality HealthyWeight”, with the primary goal of supporting its members who face greater health risks from being overweight or obese.

“From grocery shopping to cooking and meal preparation to the psychology of eating behaviours, members will get encouragement and personalised support five days a week to help them achieve their weight goals,” explained Govender.

Read the latest issue of IOL Health digital magazine here.