ObeCity Index: Capetonians carry least weight

Huge price to pay: Counting the costs of obesity
Discovery Vitality study says members in Cape Town make healthy food choices. (Photo: Freepik)


Capetonians buy the healthiest food, Joburgers work out the most and Durbanites are not making healthy food choices. This is according to a study by Discovery Health’s lifestyle scheme, Vitality. The Obecity Index found the highest proportion of members with a healthy weight in Cape Town, while Gqeberha was sixth showing the lowest.

With World Obesity day coming up on the 4th of March, the global burden of obesity weighs heavier. 

According to the World Health Organisation, 39% of the global adult population is overweight or obese.  In South Africa (SA), excess weight continues to be a serious problem, with more than half of the adult population being obese or overweight (54%).

68% of this number are women, 31% are men, and children make up a concerning 13% of this category.

SA among most obese in the world

Discovery Vitality CEO, Dinesh Govendar says obesity is a worry because people are at higher risk of developing illnesses and non-communicable diseases. These include cardiovascular diseases, certain cancers, and type 2 diabetes.

“As a nation, we have one of the highest rates worldwide. We hope that the ObeCity Index highlights possible solutions not only for Vitality members but for all South Africans. This will go a long way to achieve our core purpose of making people healthier.”

Data from the World Health Organisation shows that 70% of the Saudi Arabian population has the highest percentage of adults who are obese or overweight in the world. Followed by the USA (68%), New Zealand (66%), Australia (65%), UK (64%), Argentina (63%), and South Africa 54%. 

During the last year, researchers measured waist-adjusted weight and the collective weight circumference across six cities were compared.  Cape Town came in first with the healthiest weight, followed by Johannesburg, Durban, Pretoria, Bloemfontein and Gqeberha

In 2022, Johannesburg had the highest proportion of members working out, with Gqeberha and Cape Town coming in second and third place. Bloemfontein had the lowest number of members working out.

Mother City members making good food choices

The results also ranked the purchasing habits of members and ranked them according to the percentage of healthy food items that were purchased in comparison to overall food items.

Cape Town purchased the most healthy food items while people in Durban purchased the least.

Dr Sundeep Ruder Wits’ Clinical Endocrinologist, says the reason more women are prone to being overweight or obese is not well researched. It can be explained through biological characteristics that are present in women.

Ruder says women carry more fat for natural and hormonal health. However, during certain seasons – like pregnancy and menopause, there is always a change in weight as a part of the natural process. In an obesity environment, these processes are exemplified in women.

Discoveries made in the survey

The main causes of obesity include poor nutrition, psychological issues, and a lack of proper support and resources.

Ruder says that hormonal changes can have a direct and indirect effect on a person’s weight. One of these ways is how the body responds to stress.

He defined stress as a “mental agitation due to unfulfilled or interrupted desires” – a condition that ends the body into a “fight or flight” mode.

“When this happens, hormones are being chronically released, being activated more through mental thoughts. Hormones that you need when you are stressed become overworked and activated because they are constantly used. When you stress, you self-soothe and this affects your eating behaviour.”

Lack of sleep affects weight

Ruder added not having a healthy cycle of sleep of at least six to eight hours of undisturbed sleep contributes to hormonal changes that affect eating habits and choices.

Although the index results show that members are motivated to reach a healthier weight and better mental health, many are unable to do so consistently due to the rising cost of living, easy access to unhealthy food, misleading food packaging labels, and not having time to be physically active.  These conditions support weight gain.

North-West University’s Professor of Nutrition, Salome Kruger, adds load shedding also contributes to an unhealthy food environment in the home, especially for parents and caregivers. She recommended that people try to stay away from easy access “convenience food” and ultra-processed food.

“We should be eating whole foods like vegetables, fruit, and eggs.”

Vitality healthy weight program

Challenges that members experience when trying to lose weight include the lack of support (26%), lack of time to exercise or cook (23%),  the cost of healthy food (17%), and the lack of cooking skills of healthy food (6%).

Dr Mosima Mabunda, Head of Wellness at Discovery Vitality, explains that overweight and obesity are defined as excessive fat accumulation that may impair health. Body mass index or BMI (weight in relation to height) is widely used in clinical settings. This is due to it being easy to measure and calculate. 

The study analysed almost 300 000 Vitality health checks. Mabunda says the ObeCity Index intends to raise awareness about obesity, a pressing health issue, and use it to drive positive behaviour by sparking conversations about it. However, the data does not represent the greater South African population. – Health-e News



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