SA’s weight problem

2016-10-19 06:00

FORTY percent of South African women are obese and this country has the highest overweight and obesity rate in sub-Saharan Africa.
But sadly, it is no longer just an adult problem with one in four girls and one in five boys between the ages of two 14 being overweight or obese.

Obesity is associated with a number of diseases including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension (high blood pressure), joint pain and certain cancers.

National Obesity Week is from 15 to 19 October and the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA is highlighting the seriousness of obesity and urging South Africans to shed the kilograms by adopting a healthier lifestyle.

“There are many reasons why we are facing this obesity epidemic,” says Dr Vash Mungal-Singh, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA.
“It is difficult to pinpoint one culprit, but people need to understand that our lifestyles are largely to blame. South Africans eat too much, drink too much alcohol, and don’t move enough,” she adds.

Additionally, perceptions of weight and weight loss complicate the issue further. In the South African context weight loss is often associated with negative connotations such as HIV/Aids, therefore even if someone is overweight they fear that if they lose weight it could be interpreted that they are HIV-positive.

It is also a cultural belief among many South Africans that being overweight is a sign of affluence and wealth. In a SA National Health and Nutrition survey, most South Africans surveyed acknowledged when they were overweight, but the majority were happy with their “fat” body image.

“South Africa is a country that’s been going through a nutrition transition. The bulk of our population used to be physically active and ate a diet high in fibre and indigenous vegetables, low in animal protein and refined carbs.
“However, due to increased urbanisation, people are adopting a more Westernised diet, high in unhealthy fats, sugar and salt. Greater disposable income and a faster paced lifestyle has resulted in people consuming more fast foods and convenience foods. This is partly why there has been an increase in overweight and obesity over the past 15 years,” says Dr Mungal-Singh.

The inactivity of South Africans is another major contributor to the obesity epidemic. The problem starts in childhood and continues into adulthood, with less than two-thirds of children participating in weekly physical activity.

The Department of Health realises the significance of the obesity crisis, and has included this in the national non-communicable diseases strategic goals to assist with the obesity problem in South Africa:

• increase physical activity by 10% by 2020;

• reduce the consumption of alcohol by 20% by 2020; and

• reduce the percentage of people who are obese and/or overweight by 10% by 2020.

“It’s encouraging that targets have been set by government to reduce obesity in South Africa, however, clear strategies to achieve these goals are still lacking,” says Dr Mungal-Singh.
“To combat obesity we need a multipronged approach that includes co-operation from food manufacturers and catering establishments, appropriate legislation, strategies to make physical activity more accessible for everyone and education and awareness regarding obesity.”

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