Health shock for SA

2019-04-30 12:19
More South Africans are obese today than 20 years ago.

More South Africans are obese today than 20 years ago.

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A new global health ranking has identified South Africa as the unhealthiest country on Earth.

This is based on 10 measures: healthy life expectancy, blood pressure, blood glucose (diabetes risk), obesity, depression, happiness, alcohol use, tobacco use, inactivity (too little exercise), and government spending on healthcare.

The Indigo Wellness Index, compiled and led by Richard Davies at economics consultancy Bloomsbury Economics and published by investment business LetterOne in the new journal Global Perspectives, is one of the most comprehensive to date, covering 191 countries across the globe.

The index created a series of rankings based on 10 key measures, ordering the countries from the weakest performers (ranked one) to the strongest (ranked, for example, 191).

It then calculated a ratio to assess how close each country is to the best score overall — the worst score is 0, while the best score is one.

SA was ranked the most unhealthy country on Earth, while Canada came out on top as the most healthy country.

The latest statistics from the World Health Organisation show that South Africans have a 26% probability of dying from cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, or chronic respiratory disease between ages 30 and 70.

The WHO also found that more than 28% of adults were obese — the highest obesity rate among sub-Saharan African countries.

Commenting on the matter on The Witness Facebook page, local woman Sindi Thungo said employment leads to urbanisation and affordability, and with that, comes unhealthy food choices with the mindset that says “if I can afford it then why not buy it”.

“The food we eat is influenced by affordability and convenience. These are busy times when cooking has no time allocated. Eating out becomes an easy option. Even healthcare workers are obese and overweight. The situation is so bad.”

According to the latest SA Demographic and Health Survey, almost 70% of local women are either overweight or obese. The country has the highest rates for women in Africa.

“Excess body weight is a massive problem, but not only in adults; 13% of South African children are overweight or obese which is more than double the global average of five percent,” said one of the study co-authors Professor Alta Schutte, from the South African Medical Research Council.

Schutte said: “We need to seriously look in the mirror and change the lifestyles we lead in order to safeguard the health of South Africans, especially for future generations who are already being negatively affected.” According to her, healthy lifestyles should be incentivised and prioritised by governments which should subsidise healthy foods.

Ethno-specific methods needed

Another South African study released in 2016 called for modifications to the country’s healthcare system to include ethno-specific strategies to target non-communicable health risks that the Indian community suffers.

The study, led by the Department of Food and Nutrition Consumer Studies at the Durban University of Technology, also expressed the need for a redesign of current educational awareness programmes to spread “correct” information about the health of Indians.

The study said their findings fell in line with global research about the health of “migrant” Indians, who generally report higher prevalences of diabetes, heart disease and hypertension than “indigenous groups”.

Some 250 randomly selected and “apparently healthy” Indians from the KwaDukuza area of KwaZulu-Natal aged 35-55 were selected as participants.

Researchers made efforts to ensure that participants who were previously diagnosed with hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes were excluded. Chemical tests, such as blood samples and cholesterol checks, were administered.

The central findings of the report were that “large percentages” of participants showed “typical” signs of metabolic syndrome.

They were “centrally obese” (fat around the middle) and had high cholesterol and glucose.

The study then recommended a specialised approach targeted specifically at Indian people, which would see weight reduction as the cornerstone for reducing these “metabolic abnormalities”.

Abdominal fat was also an indicator of chronic heart disease and hypertension, it said.

SA in a ‘metabolic crisis’

Local dietician Claire Barnard from Project Health in Hilton said South Africa is a nation that is in a metabolic crisis.

“We have for so long looked at weight as a predictor of health, but what we need to realise is that health is physical, mental, emotional and environmental ... Due to South Africa being a third world country, our basic needs are not always met, therefore leading to an unhealthy nation,” said Barnard.

Outlining some of the most dangerous factors which are the highest contributors making South Africans unhealthy, Barnard highlighted our stress levels as being too high.

Here are a few tips from Barnard on keeping healthy. Focus on:

1. Weekly or two weekly trips to the shop, and try not to rely on daily trips to the shop, as this increases expenditure.

2. Plant a vegetable garden.

3. Aim to make a complete meal for supper that includes a lean protein most nights (chicken/fish/lean beef/eggs/pork) that is the size of your palm, half a plate of carbohydrate-free vegetables/salad (anything except butternut, peas, sweet potatoes and corn), and less than a fist size of starch.

4. Use your leftovers from supper for lunch the next day as this will include a good vegetable intake from the night before.

5. Aim to incorporate exercise daily. This can include taking the stairs or taking a walk on your lunch break.

6. If you have means to screen yourself metabolically try to do so yearly. Get your blood pressure, insulin levels, vitamin D and cholesterol profile checked on an annual basis.

7. Drink water only.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  health

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