South Africa’s battle of the bulge
“South Africans eat too much, drink too much alcohol, and don’t move enough,” said Dr Vash Mungal-Singh, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSF) as National Obesity Week kicks off.
South Africa is the fattest country in sub-Saharan Africa, and ranks among the world’s top 20 fattest countries. Seven out of 10 South African women weigh more than what is considered healthy. This figure is slightly lower in men, of whom about three out of 10 are overweight or obese
Alarmingly, South Africa’s increasing waistlines are not restricted to adults and the trend is becoming more common in children too. One in four girls and one in five boys between the ages of 2 and 14 years are overweight or obese, according to the HSF.
“Overnutrition is a concerning and increasing problem among South African children and adolescents,” said Dr Celeste Naude, a registered dietician and researcher with Stellenbosch University’s Centre for Evidence-based Health Care. According to Naude, there is a high likelihood that an overweight or obese teenager will become an overweight or obese adult.
Obesity is associated with diseases like type 2 diabetes, stroke and cancer, and the country’s obesity problem is starting to reflect in its mortality statistics. In 2012, heart disease and diabetes each killed more South Africans than HIV, with diseases related to high blood pressure not far behind. This is according to a Statistics South Africa report released in September.
Research shows that South Africans eat excessive amounts of salt, fats, sugar and refined grains and skimp on whole grains, fruit, vegetables and dairy. Part of this is fuelled by South Africans’ moves away from traditional diets towards more “Western diets” filled with processed foods.
“The diets of South African youth also indicate prevalence of unhealthy eating… and many learners are not consuming fruit and vegetables and dairy foods every day, while fast-foods, junk foods, confectionary and sweetened beverages are frequently consumed,” Naude told Health-e News.
According to the HSF, less than two-thirds of children exercise weekly and this trend continues into adulthood. About half of men and and almost two thirds of females are physically inactive, said the organisation in a statement.