How obesity can drain your money


Having hefty thighs, a big bum or a bulging boep may not bother you but, if you are keen on saving money, did you know that by living a healthier lifestyle you would be doing just that?

Obesity is a big problem in South Africa and, according to Discovery Vitality’s ObeCity Index for 2017, being fat increases health care costs by as much as R4 400 per person per year.

Desi Horsman, a clinical nutritionist, believes this figure could be much higher if you added in those cases that may not have been captured in the data.

“It probably is more, but not everyone can afford to go to a doctor. A lot of people try to treat themselves naturally.”

Being obese can hurt your pocket because it could result in your being diagnosed with a non-communicable disease (NCD), such as cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes, which are expensive conditions to treat.

“Diabetes is a life sentence. You have to constantly watch your diet and be specific about what you are eating. If you get a little wound it doesn’t heal well.

"All the side effects of diabetes can add up and cost you thousands in medical bills. I’ve heard of people going to hospital for an ingrown toe nail. You could lose a limb,” adds Horsman.

NCDs are noninfectious and intransmissible, hence they are entirely avoidable and are often the result of the lifestyles we lead and foods we eat.

But even though they can be prevented, NCDs are the leading causes of death and disease burden worldwide.

If you’re the main bread winner and you die, you could leave your family or dependents in financial difficulty.

Economic impact

If you’re fat, not only are you losing money but you’re also a financial burden to the economy. According to Discovery Vitality, the economic impact of obesity in South Africa is R701 billion each year.

Being obese and suffering from related illnesses can lead to decreased productivity that costs South Africa R109 billion each year.

If you take time off from work, you are one of the people contributing to the R47 billion in absenteeism costs each year.

Then there’s the money you spend on medical bills.

Not everything is covered by medical schemes and out-of-pocket expenses have been calculated as a whopping R124 billion, thanks to obesity.

If you’re keen on climbing up the corporate ladder or want to boost your paycheck, you may be passed over for a promotion because of your widening girth.

Statistics show that, globally, overweight women earn around 11% less than women of a healthy weight.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, and if you haven’t been diagnosed with an NCD, the chances are you can prevent this from happening. City Press has put together several tips on how to eat more healthily, get fit and save money in the process: 

Eat healthily, exercise, save money

1. Control your portion sizes: Wolfing down big portions isn’t good for your health or your pocket. Eat less and keep the rest for lunch or dinner the next day. This will save you money as you won’t need to buy more food. 

2. Don’t buy unhealthy, processed food or ready meals: Eat more fruit and vegetables. Research from Discovery’s Data Science Lab highlights that healthier shopping baskets can help to lower your body mass index by 10% and reduce health care costs by R2 500 a year. 

3. Exercise frequently but cut out the gym: You don’t need to use the gym to exercise. Go for a jog or a brisk walk in the park – it’s free! If you want to use a gym, see if there are savings to be made on the fees and sign up costs by joining a reward scheme. With Momentum’s Multiply, for instance, there are no activation fees and a fixed discounted rate of 25% off your monthly fees. 

4. Cut out junk food: According to Horsman, eating healthy food is not more expensive than junk food. “People say fruit costs more, but look at who you are supporting. Buying from your local supermarket will be more expensive but farmer’s markets are better value for money. And there are green grocers who get food directly from the farm, which are cheaper too,” she says. 

5. Cut down on sugary drinks: The sugar tax is kicking in next year, which means you’ll be paying more for your soda. Drink more water instead. This can be a lot cheaper, particularly if you refill empty water bottles. H2O International in Canal Walk Shopping Centre in Cape Town, for instance, charges R1 per one litre of refilled water. 

6. Don’t waste: Horsman points out that another reason fresh fruit and vegetables can be expensive is because they’re often stored away, not eaten and then thrown away. Commit to cooking and preparing what’s in your fridge and you’ll save money. 

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