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Alarm bells on high levels of obesity, hypertension among South African women

May 19, 2017
Alarm bells on high levels of obesity, hypertension among South African women

The Healthy Living Alliance, HEALA, is reacting with concern to the findings that two-thirds of South African women are overweight or obese.

Issued this week, Stats SA’s 2016 Demographic and Health Survey for South Africa features latest research on the nutritional status of adults, as well as cardiovascular disease including high blood pressure.

On both counts, findings for women are deeply worrying and suggest need for urgent action, says HEALA coordinator, Tracey Malawana.

Based on the body-mass index (BMI) score, 68% of South African women fall into the overweight or obese category, as opposed to the majority of men (59%) who are inside the normal range.

The situation mirrors women’s increased blood pressure levels: nearly half (46%) of women participating in the research had hypertension – a condition frequently associated with being overweight or obese. Both are also major factors in developing diabetes, heart attacks and other medical conditions.

HEALA says that this is an emergency and that measures to tackle it need to include a rapid introduction of a tax on sugary drinks.

HEALA highlights that as South African adults, and particularly women, suffer increasingly through cardiovascular conditions and obesity, so the sugary drinks industry gains sales.

South Africans are among the top 10 consumers of soft drinks in the world and the demand is increasing at an average rate of 3.6% per year. According to Euromonitor International, in 2014, carbonates accounted for over 3500 million litres – seven times the amount of juice consumption. Even less people choose bottled water, consuming about 400 million litres.

“Tackling obesity should be a national health priority,” says Malawana. “While there is no silver bullet that will slim down the nation, cutting sugar consumption is a non-negotiable public health measure. Sugary drinks are a major contributor to excessive sugar intake.”

Stats SA findings do not come as a surprise and confirm the data that indicate that South Africa has the highest obesity rates in Africa. Together with diabetes, strokes, heart disease and some cancers, obesity causes one in three deaths among South Africans under the age of 60. In 2015, diabetes was the leading cause of death among women, responsible for more than 15000 deaths among females. In the course of treatment, these non-communicable diseases (NCDs) sap 6.8% of the annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

“We have a choice. We can avoid the damaging impact of sugary drinks. It’s a win-win if we refuse to pay the tax by consuming healthier drinks. Our pockets and health both benefit,” concludes Malawana.