ObeCity Index 2017: Obesity Costs South Africa R701 Billion A Year


South Africa has not been spared in the rampant global increase in obesity. The majority of South Africa’s men and women are obese and overweight, and it’s costing the country millions.

According to Discovery Vitality ObeCity Index 2017 which was presented on Wednesday in Sandton, more South Africans are now obsessed than they were twenty years back

This, according to the research, costs the country about R701 billion a year and if not stopped, nearly half of SA’s population would be overweight or obese by 2030.

“15-year-olds are presenting with diabetes and heart attacks,” said Dr Craig Nossel, the head of Vitality Wellness.


“Stop normalising obesity,” cautioned the head of Discovery’s Centre for Clinical Excellence Dr Noluthando Nematswerani who also expressed concerns at how the embracing of different body types has sometimes equated to embracing obesity in South Africa.

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“Fat is bad for us. There are hormonal, immune and metabolic changes. The end effect is a rise in everything — diabetes, cancer, strokes,” explained clinical endocrinologist Dr Sundeep Ruder.

Obesity means having too much body fat. It is different from being overweight, which means weighing too much. The weight may come from muscle, bone, fat, and/or body water while obesity is most commonly caused by a combination of excessive food intake, lack of physical activity, and genetic susceptibility

Obesity occurs over time when you eat more calories than you use. The balance between calories-in and calories-out differs for each person. Factors that might affect your weight include your genetic makeup, overeating, eating high-fat foods, and not being physically active.

Being obese increases your risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, and some cancers. If you are obese, losing even 5 to 10 percent of your weight can delay or prevent some of these diseases. For example, that means losing 10 to 20 pounds if you weigh 200 pounds.

Part of the fundamental cause of obesity and overweight is an energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended. Globally, there has been:

  • an increased intake of energy-dense foods that are high in fat; and
  • an increase in physical inactivity due to the increasingly sedentary nature of many forms of work, changing modes of transportation, and increasing urbanization.

According to the latest South African Demographic and Health Survey, almost 70% of local women are either overweight or obese. The country has the highest rates for women in Africa.

Obesity is most commonly caused by a combination of excessive food intake, lack of physical activity, and genetic susceptibility. A few cases are caused primarily by genes, endocrine disorders, medications, or mental disorder.

How Obesity Affects Your Health

How obesity affects your health depends on different things, including age, gender, where you carry your body fat, and how physically active you are. SOme of the risks associated with being obsessed  include:

  • A higher risk for gallstones,
  • A high risk of having a type 2 diabetes,
  • High blood pressure,
  • High cholesterol triglycerides,
  • coronary artery disease (CAD),
  • Stroke,
  • Sleep apnea, among other conditions.

Obesity can also affect one’s emotional and mental health. Consequential conditions such as depression and emotional distress may likely result from obesity.


According to a dietitian and exercise physiologist Gabriel Eksteen, and clinical endocrinologist Dr Sundeep Ruder, obesity is a complex disease with many drivers. But ultimately, it’s about behaviour change.

Buying better, cooking at home more often and eating healthier are the recommended starting points.

“Stick to natural foods. No more than 20 percent of your food basket should be processed,” said they both suggested.

Eksteen also proposed that “health literacy” be introduced as food labels aren’t equally easy to understand for everyone. “Literacy will also help people understand how much sugar and salt is (really) in their food.”

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The two also noted how fast-food consumption pose a big challenge for South Africans.  2016 report about fast-food growth in South Africa revealed that total fast food sales were R35.9 billion, growing by 10 percent each year.

“You can’t drive 500 metres without seeing a food place, lamented Dr Nossel who attributed the shocking growth partly to modernisation, which has contributed in making the citizens lazy.