R23bn over nine years, and it’s only get­ting worse

CityPress - - News -

Gov­ern­ment has spent more than R23 bil­lion pre­vent­ing and treat­ing life­style ill­nesses as­so­ci­ated with obe­sity in the past nine years.

Med­i­cal ex­perts be­lieve that this fig­ure will con­tinue to rise in the next decade and even­tu­ally sink the coun­try’s health­care sys­tem, which is al­ready strug­gling to cope with the num­ber of peo­ple suf­fer­ing from di­a­betes and hy­per­ten­sion.

About 7 mil­lion peo­ple are cur­rently es­ti­mated to be suf­fer­ing from hy­per­ten­sion, which in­creases the risk of stroke and heart dis­ease, while 3.5 mil­lion peo­ple have been di­ag­nosed with di­a­betes – the other big life­style-re­lated, life-threat­en­ing dis­ease.

Half of all cases of di­a­betes and hy­per­ten­sion are re­lated to obe­sity. Statis­tics fur­ther re­veal that some types of can­cers are in­creas­ingly be­ing linked to obe­sity.

Pro­fes­sor Karen Hof­man of the Wits School of Public Health told City Press that if the sit­u­a­tion was al­lowed to con­tinue “the obe­sity epi­demic will sink South Africa’s health­care sys­tem”.

Obe­sity is a grow­ing prob­lem in South Africa. The coun­try has the high­est rate of obe­sity in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa and is ranked among the top 10 coun­tries in the world for num­bers of fat peo­ple.

The World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion last year es­ti­mated that 70% of women were ei­ther obese or over­weight while one in four men were also obese or over­weight.

Hof­man, who has con­ducted a study into the costs of treat­ing life­style dis­eases in South Africa, ex­plained that obe­sity-re­lated ill­nesses such as high blood pres­sure, di­a­betes and can­cer had dou­bled in the past decade. “Very soon, the bur­den of obe­sity will over­take HIV,” she said.

Pro­fes­sor An­dre Kengne, direc­tor of the non-com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases re­search unit at the Med­i­cal Re­search Coun­cil, agreed.

“Pro­jec­tions sug­gest that in the next few decades non-com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases will over­take in­fec­tious dis­eases as the main cause of suf­fer­ing and death in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, in­clud­ing South Africa.

“One ma­jor im­pli­ca­tion of this is that the health­care sys­tem has to un­dergo a com­plete trans­for­ma­tion to cope with the de­mand for care for non-com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases, which is not nec­es­sar­ily sim­i­lar to the de­mand for care for in­fec­tious dis­eases.

“The pri­mary care sys­tem in par­tic­u­lar, which is the first point of con­tact for the pop­u­la­tion within the health­care sys­tem has to be bet­ter equipped and staffed to han­dle the grow­ing num­ber of peo­ple with non-com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases,” he ex­plained.

The chair­per­son of the board of trustees of the coun­try’s sec­ond­biggest med­i­cal aid, the Gov­ern­ment Em­ploy­ees’ Med­i­cal Scheme, Zava Rikhotso, raised sim­i­lar con­cerns.

“The im­pact on so­ci­ety, the econ­omy and our health sys­tem is stag­ger­ing and con­tin­ues to grow at an alarm­ing rate.

“The Coun­cil of Med­i­cal Schemes es­ti­mated that roughly R8 bil­lion will be spent on treat­ing life­style-re­lated dis­eases in South Africa ev­ery year from now on,” he said.

“Obese adult work­ers have been found to take 2.4 times more longterm sick leave, up to 2.8 times higher dis­abil­ity pen­sion and a loss of pro­duc­tiv­ity amount­ing to 7% more than their health­ier coun­ter­parts,” he added.

Rikhotso was quot­ing a lo­cal study pub­lished in the Oc­cu­pa­tional Health South­ern Africa jour­nal last year.

The study, co-au­thored by Hof­man, found that obese em­ploy­ees cost their com­pa­nies 50% more in paid time off work than their non-obese col­leagues.

Gov­ern­ment has al­ready passed reg­u­la­tions to com­pel man­u­fac­tur­ers of ev­ery­thing from break­fast ce­re­als to jelly to cut back on salt con­tent. A 20% tax on sugar-sweet­ened drinks has also been mooted.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.