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.