CityPress - - Front Page - ZINHLE MAPUMULO zinhle.mapumulo@city­

South Africa’s big fat prob­lem is grow­ing, and it’s grow­ing re­ally fast. A new study that looked into obe­sity and over­weight lev­els among civil ser­vants in four African coun­tries – South Africa, Nige­ria, Tan­za­nia and Uganda – found that teach­ers and nurses were lit­er­ally top­pling the scale in these coun­tries.

Four years ago, South Africa’s preva­lence of over­weight and obese peo­ple (com­bined) was es­ti­mated at 65%, but it has in­creased to a con­cern­ing 85%, ac­cord­ing to a study pub­lished in the BioMed Cen­tral jour­nal.

These lat­est sta­tis­tics are higher than those pub­lished in the 2013 Lancet study show­ing that South African women and men’s com­bined rate of be­ing over­weight and obese was at 69.3% and 38.8%, re­spec­tively.

The BioMed Cen­tral jour­nal also found that obe­sity rates in­creased with age and mar­i­tal sta­tus. The high­est preva­lence of obe­sity was recorded in South African women at 61%, fol­lowed closely by Ugan­dan women. Con­trar­ily, in Nige­ria and Tan­za­nia, obe­sity was more preva­lent among men, while the study showed that more women were over­weight.

The study’s au­thors noted that the cul­ture of ap­pre­ci­a­tion of “fat” or “volup­tuous” women and the be­lief that be­ing fat was a “sign of af­flu­ence” were con­tribut­ing to the rapidly in­creas­ing rate of obe­sity in African coun­tries.

Re­cently, Lynn Mo­eng, the depart­ment of health’s chief di­rec­tor of health pro­mo­tion, nu­tri­tion and oral heath, ex­pressed a sim­i­lar con­cern, say­ing that “peo­ple need to stop as­so­ci­at­ing be­ing over­weight and obese with af­flu­ence”.

Be­ing over­weight or obese is a pre­cur­sor to many pre­ventable dis­eases, in­clud­ing di­a­betes, hy­per­ten­sion and heart dis­eases.

Ber­nadette Camp­bell, group nurs­ing ser­vice man­ager at Clinix Health Group, added that “there is a di­rect link be­tween obe­sity and di­a­betes, and peo­ple need to start mak­ing life­style changes to stop this trend”.

“Obe­sity is no joke, and South Africans need to get se­ri­ous about this prob­lem plagu­ing our so­ci­ety. We are in the top five of the most obese na­tions in the world.

“It is a statis­tic we shouldn’t be proud of. We need to tackle is­sues re­lat­ing to obe­sity, adopt health­ier eat­ing habits and get ac­tive,” she em­pha­sised.

The South African gov­ern­ment spent more than R2 tril­lion pre­vent­ing and treat­ing life­style dis­eases as­so­ci­ated with obe­sity be­tween 2006 and last year.

Med­i­cal ex­perts be­lieve this fig­ure will con­tinue to rise in the next decade and could even­tu­ally harm the coun­try be­cause the health sys­tem is al­ready strug­gling to cope with the num­ber of peo­ple suf­fer­ing from di­a­betes and hy­per­ten­sion.

Cur­rently, about 7 mil­lion peo­ple are es­ti­mated to be suf­fer­ing from hy­per­ten­sion, while 3.5 mil­lion peo­ple have been di­ag­nosed with di­a­betes and an ad­di­tional 5 mil­lion in­di­vid­u­als are be­lieved to be suf­fer­ing from the dis­ease but have not been di­ag­nosed.

In terms of di­a­betes, obe­sity causes in­creased lev­els of in­sulin, glu­cose and blood fats, which leads to type 2 di­a­betes (the most com­mon form of di­a­betes) and a fatty liver. This can cause heart prob­lems be­cause in­creased lev­els of free fatty acids are stored and con­verted to fats in var­i­ous body tis­sues. While genes may pre­dis­pose an in­di­vid­ual to obe­sity, an un­healthy diet, lack of phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity and stress also play a part.

“If you are over­weight and have not yet been di­ag­nosed with di­a­betes, em­bark on a health­ier life­style pro­gramme to make a dif­fer­ence and avoid the on­set of di­a­betes. It’s never too late to make healthy changes in your life. Even small changes can make a big dif­fer­ence,” she said.

Camp­bell urged peo­ple to be cau­tious of prod­uct la­bels dis­play­ing the words ‘zero’, ‘lite’ or ‘diet’ and to steer away from fast food.

“Drink more wa­ter and cut down your por­tion sizes. Make a con­scious de­ci­sion to eat fresh veg­eta­bles and avoid sauces that are full of sugar and preser­va­tives. Most im­por­tantly, get help if you need it. There are pro­fes­sion­als who can help you get on track by cre­at­ing an eat­ing and ex­er­cise plan that is suited to your sit­u­a­tion,” she added.

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