Weighty concerns

“Childhood obesity is rampant in the US. About 26% of children between the
ages of 12 and 19 are obese. We are finding that the majority of African
American girls are overweight,” says Dr. Yvonne Thompson Maddox, deputy
director of the US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

“Everything is getting bigger. It is customary in the fast food industry to
serve huge portions of food. Children are also leading more sedentary lives,
staying indoors and watching a lot of television,” adds Maddox, who was in
South Africa recently to attend a meeting of the African Partnership

Lack of nutrition is a far bigger problem than obesity for South African
children. However, obesity is on the increase among adults, particularly
middle-aged women. The 1998 Demographic and Health Survey found that 54% of
women were overweight or obese, in comparison to 29% of men.

A study of disadvantaged women in Mamre in the Western Cape found that,
among women aged 45 to 64, almost half (49%) were obese in 1996. Eight years
prior to that, 44% of women in this age group were obese.

Researchers say the increase in obesity is due to urbanisation, less
exercise and more energy-dense foods.

However, another worrying trend is an increase in eating disorders among
young black teenage girls.

A 2003 study of 40 Zulu-speaking girls and 40 British girls conducted by the
University of Zululand and the UK’s Northumbria University found more of the
Zulu-speakers had eating disorders than their British counterparts.

More than half reported irregular eating or vomiting after meals, and many
said they did so because they wanted to look more like Western girls
promoted in the media.

* The African Partnership Network recently awarded grants to three South
African projects aimed promoting the development of young researchers to
conduct biomedical and behavioural research on HIV/AIDS.

E-mail Kerry Cullinan


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