IT seems October will be getting off to a healthy start as, for the first time, a broad coalition of health partners, including the National and Provincial Departments of Health, have aligned National Nutrition Week (October 9 to October 15) and National Obesity Week (October 15 to October 19) to promote a shared and very important message about healthy eating habits. While these stakeholders will primarily be focusing this year’s campaign around the importance of breakfast at the start of everyday, there are also a variety of other important factors that they wish to touch on when acting to curb obesity and nutrition problems in the country. Local gynaecologist and health expert Dr. Dave Glass advises a switch to more natural-based food items, rather than processed and fatty foods, to eradicate obesity. “The most effective intervention is to increase the intake of foods that are as much as possible in their natural state. Natural foods are high in nutrition but low in energy density. Foods that are predominantly plant-based are also less energy dense compared to animal products which are high in fats and thus energy dense. Foods high in fat need to be cut way down.“Oil is the most energy dense food known so it is very easy to take in too many kilojoules by eating fatty foods,” said Dr. Glass. Dr Glass also stated that it is important to make these lifestyle changes with the help and support of your whole family. “Weight loss is not about a fad diet, but about lifestyle changes. The best weight loss is weight lost gradually.“The whole family should be involved in the changed lifestyle and dietary interventions. It doesn’t help if the family are all eating differently. “The best time to start healthy habits is when the children are small,” said Dr. Glass. He said struggling with weight loss is primarily caused by addiction to certain aspects of food items like oils, salty foods, sugary foods and refined flours, and we need to deal with that addiction to conquer obesity. The various partners supporting National Nutrition & Obesity Week (NNOW); including ADSA (Association for Dietetics in South Africa), The Nutrition Society of South Africa (NSSA), The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA), Consumer Goods Council of South Africa (CGCSA), Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), the Consumer Education Project of Milk SA, Department of Basic Education (DBE) and South African Military Health Service (SAMHS); agree that eating breakfast regularly has many health benefits. They have provided some tips to avoid falling into the trap of skipping breakfast. These include planning for breakfast; drawing up meal plans and a food budget to shop for affordable, healthy options; and preparing the night before, so breakfast does not become a hassle. “When you make breakfast an important and enjoyable part of your family routine, you model healthy lifestyle choices and behaviour that not just benefits your children through their school and study years, but can become a healthy habit for their lifetimes,” said spokesperson for NNOW Jackie Busch.According to Dr. Glass, South Africa has the heaviest populations in the continent. SA’S WEIGHTY STATISTICS • 70% of women in South Africa are overweight and 40% included in that figure are obese (BMI more than 30) • 35% of men in South Africa are overweight• 25% of girls between 2-14 years are overweight• 20% of boys between 2-14 years are overweightThe obesity epidemic in the country, he says, is primarily due to a rise in the emerging middle and upper class in the country. “This is not just a problem of one racial group in South Africa, but is an across the board problem. “However the greatest increase has been associated with the increase in socio-economic status of new middle and upper-class South Africans. With a greater income, expenditure in terms of processed foods and animal foods has dramatically increased,” said Dr. Glass.Obesity is associated strongly with high blood pressure, type two diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, arthritis and certain cancers (like breast, prostate, pancreas and colon cancers) therefore patrons are encouraged to make those important lifestyle changes this NNOW and combat obesity.