South Africans are seriously unhealthy – here’s how we compare to the rest of the world

 ·17 Jun 2023

New data from the medical aid scheme comparison website has determined the countries with the worst unhealthy habits ranking South Africa as the tenth worst in the world.

“Many bad habits can have a detrimental effect on our health, but some are far more damaging than others. Whether you’re guilty of excessive snacking, avoiding exercise, or staying up late way past your bedtime, the behaviours we build up over time can have a mounting impact on our long-term health,” said

According to, what marks South Africa as a standout is the high level of unprotected sexual activity that leads to STDs.

“South Africa has the highest rate of STD prevalence at 37,273 people per 100,000, which is 294% higher than in Israel, where the lowest rate of 9,455 cases per 100,000 people was recorded,” it said.

On top of this, South Africa has a high level of obesity at 28.3%, followed by a 38% physical inactivity. Drinking, although assumed to be one of South Africa’s major vices, is less than other ranked countries at 7.2 litres per capita.

16.6% of people smoke cigarettes in South Africa.

Overall, South Africa has the tenth-highest unhealthy lifestyle score of 6.14 out of 10. The unhealthiest country is Bulgaria, with a score of 7.94, followed by Latvia at 7.16 and Argentina at 6.88. said Bulgaria has the highest smoking rate in our study, with as much as 35.5% of the population consuming tobacco products, making it the only country where this rate is higher than one-third. Bulgaria also has the 7th highest average annual alcohol consumption at 11.2 litres per capita, as well as relatively high scores for most other factors, it added.

Latvia’s major issue relates to the highest annual alcohol consumption per capita at 12.9 litres, while Argentina has a high level of obesity and a lack of physical inactivity.

To draw its conclusions, the website looked into data from the World Health Organization, the CIA Factbook and other authoritative sources that include rates of tobacco smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, as well as alcohol consumption and the prevalence of the five most common STDs (excluding HIV).

“Data for all of these factors were combined into a single Unhealthy Lifestyle Score which was used to rank the countries from those with the most unhealthy habits to those with the fewest,” said

The website provides the following breakdown of habits:

The countries with the least unhealthy habits include India, with a score of 1.31, Iceland, with a score of 2.30 and Sweden, at 2.54.

“India recorded the lowest Unhealthy Lifestyle Score of any country in our study at just 1.31, meaning people in the country have the fewest unhealthy habits on average. India has the lowest rate of smoking at 5.2% of the population as well as the lowest rate of obesity at 3.9%. Additionally, the country has the second lowest rate of STD prevalence, with 10,763 diagnoses per 100,000 people,” said the comparison website.

Read: South Africa is playing with fire

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