Obesity: A problem in SA and worldwide

Report by Leigh Callipolitis – The PR SPACE

March 2 is World Obesity Day

Obesity is a disaster requiring urgent intervention in South Africa2.

Alarmingly 800 million people around the world are affected by obesity1. World Obesity Day takes place on March 4 and is an annual initiative to bring together the global community to raise awareness and improve understanding and causes of obesity around the world.

According to Dr Riekie Smit, a medical practitioner from Pretoria with a special interest in weight management, South Africa has alarmingly high rates of adult obesity. More than half of the female population and over a quarter of the male population are obese, and up to 70% of the female population either overweight or obese2.

She says that South Africa is also rated in the top 3 countries in Africa in terms of adult obesity rates, with no signs of this abating. Even worse, our childhood obesity rates are continuing to rise2.

According to Diabetes South Africa, 20% of girls younger than 9 years are overweight and 13,5% of school-going children are overweight or obese, which is higher than the 10% global rate,” she says2.

Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more. Your BMI is calculated with a simple formula of your weight (kg) divided by your height (m) squared. BMI calculators are also easily accessible online2.

“This should not be the only guideline used, as your waist circumference is another really important measure of your risk for health problems. A high-risk waistline is over 80cm for women or over 94cm for men, and this indicates an increased risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and other conditions,” Dr Smit says2.

Diabetes, which is one of the conditions associated with obesity, is now the ‘largest killer’ of South African women according to Statistics SA research2.

Having type 2 diabetes also increases your risk of severe illness from COVID-193.

In fact, adults of any age with certain underlying medical conditions are at increased risk for severe illness from the virus that causes COVID-19, including being overweight and obese3.

“The main reason for this is the comorbidities associated with obesity,” explains Dr Smit, who says that she is often surprised at how many obese patients are not aware of the other medical conditions that they already have2.

“Obesity, as well as its comorbid diseases, affects one’s immunity and your body’s ability to recover from illnesses. Obesity is associated with a depressed immune system and chronic low-grade inflammation in your body,” she says2.

In fact, researchers have established the likelihood that the presence of excess fat or adipose tissue could increase transmission of the virus between organs and could possibly increase viral load and drive disease severity4.

“Obesity is associated with reduced cardiac and respiratory function, kidney pathology and all these and the other comorbid conditions gives rise to the poor outcome that many obese patients have when infected with COVID-19,” Dr Smit explains2. Worse yet, obese people generally seem to respond poorly to vaccinations and antiviral treatments2.

Furthermore, obesity increases your risk for numerous other health conditions, many of which can be fatal. Overall, obesity is estimated to increase the risk of dying from heart conditions by four times and doubles your risk of cancer-related death2.

“For persons with severe obesity (BMI >40), life expectancy is reduced by as much as 20 years in men and 5 years in women,” she says2.

According to Dr Smit, this a disaster requiring urgent intervention2.

“Numerous scientific studies have revealed that most of the obesity related medical conditions improve significantly with a weight loss of as little as 5% to 10% of your body weight.  This should really motivate anyone with health or weight problems,” she says and advises people with weight issues to educate themselves and the people close to them about how weight issues affect health2.

This includes becoming educated on why maintaining a healthy weight is important, what the importance of a healthy diet is, knowing more about nutrition and portion sizes, what you should be eating and what the benefits of exercise are. It is also important to know what assistance there is to help with losing weight, including possible weight loss programmes, medications, apps and what services are available to assist you2.

“Educate yourself, write down the steps, have a goal, and then start following the steps. You will also need help and advice from those with experience,” she says and advises those with obesity issues to monitor their progress and that if there is no progress, to get help rather than give up2.

If you are worried about your weight, or for any further information, speak to your doctor for advice about how to lose or manage your weight. Go to www.ilivelite.co.za for more information, to check your BMI and weight circumference and get access to professionally developed dietary guidelines which feature different meal plans to suit various lifestyles and energy requirements.

References:

  1. World Obesity Day – The mission of World Obesity Day (2021) at https://www.worldobesityday.org/ (website accessed on 1 Feb 2021)
  2. Q&A with Dr Riekie Smit – 26 January 2021 (unpaid)
  3. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention – People with Certain Medical Conditions (2021) at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-with-medical-conditions.html (website accessed on 1 Feb 2021)
  4. P et al.  The impact of obesity on the cellular and molecular pathophysiology of COVID-19. Department of Immunology, Institute for Cellular and Molecular Medicine, SAMRC Extramural Unit for Stem Cell Research and Therapy, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Pretoria, South Africa. As published in the SAMJ (23 November 2020) at http://www.samj.org.za/index.php/samj/article/view/13184 (website accessed on 3 Feb 2021)

 

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