by Emily Gray

OBESITY: INHERITING A GLOBAL PHENOMENON

South Africa has seen a massive increase in westernised diets and the concomitant growth in fast food chains. Last year, the launch of Burgher King almost 5000 people line up outside for their first taste of the famous Whopper Burger in Cape Town.

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This growth of fast food chains is a positive sign of confidence in the South African economy and indicates how African consumer’s palates and the market have changed.

However, this places a major concern on the increasing rate of obesity in South Africa. Obesity is no longer just a concern for developed countries, it is rapidly becoming a major concern in developing countries where populations are gaining a bigger percentage of body fat and are yet, still malnourished.

Globally, the number of overweight people has risen from 250 million to over 1 billion in under three decades. The rise in obesity in poor nations is prominent in children. More than a quarter of girls and one in five boys in South Africa are overweight.

Experts say that diseases related to obesity such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes will soon overtake HIV and tuberculosis as the biggest causes of death in South Africa. Unfortunately, the high rate of obesity is not only due to poor diet but is also ingrained in cultural attitudes.

Being overweight is seen as a sign of affluence and weight loss is sometimes assumed to be due to diseases, like HIV Aids. With the rising crime rate, people are also too afraid to walk, cycle, or play in the streets and parks anymore.

While being overweight must be a concern for everyone, it is even more of a concern for the disabled society. Lower limb amputees have to exert as much as 300% more energy when walking with a prosthetic device. Walking then becomes almost impossible for amputees who are unfit and overweight as it places a major strain on the residual limb.

This then forces them to rather make use of a wheelchair and, ultimately, results in even less activity. The main cause of lower limb amputations is from vascular diseases, including diabetes and peripheral arterial disease, all of which are related to obesity. If overweight individuals lose their lower limb to these diseases, it makes the process of reintegration and rehabilitation that much more difficult due to their lack of physical fitness and aerobic capacity to walk with a prosthesis device.

With only 17% of South Africans having private health insurance, it paints a very worrying future for individuals with poor diets and inactive lifestyles.

With increasing costs of medical care and the government’s health budgets under pressure, individuals need to take it upon themselves to take good care of themselves and their families by eating more whole plant-based foods and make every effort to find ways to enjoy active, healthy lifestyles.

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