Obesity costs SA economy more than R700bn per year - study

Johannesburg – The economic impact of obesity in South Africa is more than R700bn per year, a study revealed.

According to the Discovery Vitality OBEcity index for 2017, which presents insights on weight status and food purchasing behavior of Vitality members across six South African cities, the impact of obesity is not only limited to the health of individuals but the economy too. The study covers the cities of Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, Durban, Bloemfontein and Port Elizabeth.

Obesity costs the global economy R16.4trn, which is roughly equal to the impact of smoking and wars. It costs the South African economy R701bn. It impacts productivity, which costs the economy R109bn each year. Increased absenteeism costs the South African economy R47bn, according to the report.

Other costs include increased medical spend, related to out-of-pocket healthcare costs, which amount to R124bn each year globally. Global figures also show that daily expenses cost obese people an additional R31bn.

Globally, statistics show that overweight women are predicted to earn 11% less than women of a healthy weight.

Among the contributors to obesity is increased consumption of sugar, salt, fat and animal products.

“Sales of ready-made meals, snack bars and instant noodles increased by 40% between 2005 and 2010,” the report read.  “Fast food consumption continues to grow, negatively impacting our weight.”

Dr Craig Nossel, head of Vitality Wellness, explained that there is a direct correlation between weight status and wealth outcomes. “People with an unhealthy bodyweight incur a direct increase in healthcare costs of approximately R4 400 per person per year.”

Purchasing healthier foods has a positive impact on Body Mass Index (BMI) and R2 500 lower health costs per year, he added.

South Africa’s healthiest city

The study showed that Cape Town is the healthiest city, with 53.5% of Vitality members having a normal weight status. These people also purchase the most vegetables and fruit compared to other cities.

Johannesburg came second, with 52% of its members having normal weight and Durban placed third, with 51.8% of its members having normal weight.

“Port Elizabeth and Bloemfontein have the worst weight status, with 48.8% of residents having a healthy weight status in both cities,” the report read. 

The report also showed that members in Durban and Port Elizabeth purchased the least portions of fruit and vegetables.

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