Almost 70% of SA women obese, study finds


South Africans continue to "supersize", with two-thirds of women and a third of men being overweight or obese, according to preliminary results from the latest Demographics and Health Survey.

Supersized South Africans

By the age of 20, over half of all women were already overweight and by 45, this figure had rocketed to 82%, according to the survey conducted by the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), Statistics South Africa and the Department of Health.

White men were much fatter than men of other races, with three-quarters being overweight as opposed to slightly over a quarter of African men. With women, the racial differences were not as pronounced, although the majority of severely obese women were Coloured.

The Western Cape is home to the fattest people, and this province also led statistics for hypertension – not surprising as obesity is a major cause of high blood pressure.

“It is time that we wake up to this cold fact and that we need to address the risk factors that contribute to overweight and obesity. Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are fast becoming the leading cause of death, now accounting for more than HIV and TB,” said SAMRC’s Professor Andre Kengne. 

Curbed growth

In contrast, over a quarter of children under the age of five showed signs of stunting (stunted growth). Stunting is higher among boys (30%) than girls (25%).

Less than a quarter of babies aged between six as 23 months were being fed the “minimum acceptable diet”.

Smoking and drinking

Smoking was most popular amongst Coloured women and men, with 38% of Coloured women admitting to smoking in comparison to a national average of 7%. Men were far more likely than women to smoke, with a national average of 37% – with almost half of Coloured men reporting being smokers.

However, white women and men were far more likely to have consumed alcohol than any other group in the week before being interviewed – over one third of white women (versus a national average of 10%) and almost 60% of white men (versus a national average of 37%).

Prevalence of HIV

Meanwhile, 45% of women and 55% of men aged between 15 and 49 reported to have had sex with neither their spouse nor someone they were living with in the past 12 months.

“This is particularly dangerous within the context of HIV in South Africa,” says SAMRC’s Burden of Disease Research Unit Director Professor Debbie Bradshaw. “Our survey showed that 32% of men and 40% of women did not use condoms in these incidences, and this does not help to control the epidemic.”

Physical abuse

Some 8% of women interviewed said that they had experienced physical violence from their partner in the past year, with one in five reporting that they had experienced physical intimate partner violence in their lives.

“It is challenging to collect such information and the methodology could possibly understate the true extent of the problem,” says SAMRC’s Gender and Health Research Unit Deputy Director Professor Naeemah Abrahams. “Given the daily media reports of violence against women and children, it is important that we develop national strategic plans that will curb gender based violence.” 

Read more:

Are South Africans gluttons?

South Africans - the fattest of them all

The state of South Africans' health

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