News | South Africa | Health
Obesity rates in South Africa are the highest in sub-Saharan Africa and are continuing to increase rapidly, with almost 40% of women and 11% of men obese, while 69% of women and 39% of men are overweight .
This week, Obesity Day was observed to promote healthy eating, which is not always easy in a country with high poverty and unemployment.
Recognised as a disease, obesity is a condition which increases the likelihood of developing a wide range of noncommunicable diseases.
It also increases the likelihood of infectious diseases leading to serious consequences.
Lawrence Mbalati, head of the Healthy Living Alliance, said although sugar taxes were not increased in the latest budget speech, they played a role in reducing obesity. “
The sugar tax [health promotion levy] is in the health tax toolbox to reduce overconsumption of sugar in the short term and reduce the rate of obesity,” he said.
“Obesity does not receive prioritisation commensurate with its prevalence and impact, which is rising fastest in emerging economies such as South Africa.”
Mbalati added it was a gateway to many other noncommunicable diseases, mental health illness and a major factor in Covid-19 complications and mortality.
“Ultra-processed foods in particular, the overconsumption of added sugar; such as sugar added to cool drinks was linked to obesity. Sugar in its natural form, that is sugar in whole fruits and vegetables, does not contribute towards obesity.”
Mbalati observed that in South Africa, the risk of obesity appeared to be higher in poorer communities because, often, the food environment was skewed to cheaper, ultra-processed foods.
Lack of physical activity also contributed. Diseases caused by obesity include cardiovascular diseases and cancers, hypertension and diabetes, among others.
Mbalati said eating healthily was expensive, but he wanted the government to intervene.
“The government can protect the health of all South Africans by using policy to create a healthier food environment.
“The health promotion levy is one such tool. It has incentivised manufacturers to reformulate their products to make them healthier and it has reduced sugar consumption by consumers.”
Dr Chantel Witten, a dietitian, said three factors played a role in child obesity: use of infant formula was related to childhood obesity as were feeding practices and lack of physical activity.
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