South Africa has the highest overweight and obesity rate in sub-Saharan Africa: seven
out of 10 women and four out of 10 men have significantly more body fat than
what is deemed healthy, according to a groundbreaking new study published in
the medical journal, the Lancet, on Thursday.
results correlate with a 2011 health survey conducted by pharmaceutical company
GlaxoSmithKline that pronounced South Africa "the third-fattest nation in
the world" and a Medical Research Council study, which found that 61% of
the South African population is overweight or obese. This is almost double the
global rate of nearly 30%, according to the Lancet study.
Lancet study, which was conducted by the Institute for
Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, was a
first-of-its-kind analysis of data between 1980 and 2013 from 188 countries.
found that the rise in global obesity rates over the past three decades
"has been rapid, substantial and widespread, presenting a major public
health epidemic in both the developed and developing world".
the 70% of overweight South African women, 42% are obese, according to the
authors define overweight as a weight-to-height ratio greater than or equal to
25, but lower than 30, while the ratio for obesity is considered higher than
Risk factor for diseaseResearch
has shown that the risk for developing cardiovascular disease, cancer,
diabetes, osteaoarthritis and chronic kidney disease increase when a person's
weight-to-height ratio, also called a body mass index, exceeds 23.
sub-Saharan African countries such as Namibia (19.8%), Lesotho (24.1%) and
Zimbabwe (33.5%) have significantly smaller proportions of obese women than
South Africa. Eritrea only has 4.7% obese women and Ethiopia 1.8% –
respectively, about 10 and 20 times less than South Africa.
study found that men in developed countries had higher rates of overweight and
obesity, while women in developing countries exhibited higher rates.
are on the rise among children and adolescents in the developing world, where
nearly 13% of boys and more than 13% of girls were found to be overweight or
obese. In South Africa, these rates are significantly higher: a fifth of
boys and a quarter of girls have unhealthy amounts of fat in their bodies.
Why such high rates in SA?Over
the years, numerous reasons have been debated as to why the South African
obesity statistics look so dire. One of the most common reasons cited is the
increasing Westernisation and urbanisation of the South African population over
the past few decades. Researchers say this is resulting in people living less
active lifestyles and consuming more fast food, which has extremely high salt,
sugar and fat content.
studies have shown that South African women do very little exercise and that
many, particularly black women, associate being fat with wealth, health and
success, while being thin is associated with being HIV-infected.
World Health Organisation predicts that in the next 20 years, obesity-driven
diabetes across sub-Saharan Africa will double. Research has also shown that
undernourished children have an increased risk of becoming obese.
to a co-author of the Lancet study, Christopher Murray,
not a single country has managed to reduce its obesity rate in the past three
decades. "We expect obesity to rise steadily as incomes rise in low and
middle-income countries in particular, unless urgent steps are taken to address
this public health crisis."
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