There is an increase in obesity among women of childbearing age in South Africa. That’s according to a recent study by Mweete Debra Nglazi, a University of Cape Town PhD student whose research focuses on public health.
The contributing factors include a lack of physical activity and an increased consumption of unhealthy foods.
“As a result, an increased public health attention is needed about obesity and its health consequences for this vulnerable population. Efforts are needed across different sectors to prevent excessive weight gain in women of childbearing age, focusing on the risk factors identified in the paper,” Nglazi and co-author John Ele-Ojo Ataguba noted.
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The article, titled Overweight and obesity in non-pregnant women of childbearing age in South Africa: subgroup regression analyses of survey data from 1998 to 2017, was published in the journal BMC Public Health in February this year. The study found that overweight increased from 51.3% to 60%, and obesity rose from 24.7% to 35.2%.
Nglazi used nationally representative data from the 2008 to 2017 National Income Dynamics Study, 1998 and 2016 SA Demographic and Health Surveys, and the 2005/06 and 2010/11 Income and Expenditure Surveys to assess the prevalence of overweight and obesity changes between 1998 to 2017 in non-pregnant women aged 15years to 49 years in South Africa. She also examined the determinants of overweight and obesity.
She said the prevalence of overweight and obesity tended to be higher among women from wealthier socioeconomic backgrounds than their counterparts from poorer backgrounds.
“South Africa is undergoing a nutrition transition, characterised by an increasing prevalence of overweight and obesity. The finding that overweight and obesity increased over time, could be due to rapid economic development since the new democracy in 1994, urbanisation and increased number of women in the labour force.
“Time constraint is a challenge for many women in preparing healthy meals because of long working hours and having greater access to processed foods,” she explained.
Nglazi said those with higher education tended to have less energy-demanding jobs, be more physically inactive, and have sedentary lifestyles.
“By contrast, we found that in 1998, the odds of being overweight and obese were lower in women with a tertiary education compared to those with no primary school education,” she said.
The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of caring for those who are obese or overweight, as these conditions put them at a greater risk of death.
“With the Covid-19 pandemic and high prevalence of obesity among women of childbearing age in South Africa, to minimise adverse consequences there is an urgent call to prioritise the vulnerable populations through timeous vaccination, testing and detection, and providing prompt and aggressive treatment for obese patients even before their conditions become severe,” Nglazi said.