Globally 2.1 billion people are overweight or obese, or just over 30% of the world’s population – however, the situation is much worse in South Africa, according to new statistics published by Discovery Vitality.
“The big picture is worse in South Africa. Nearly 70% of South African women and 31% of South African men are overweight or obese,” said Dr Craig Nossel, head of Wellness at Vitality.
“And worryingly, 13% of South African children are overweight, which is twice the global average,” he said.
Nossel added that unhealthy diets are responsible for more deaths than any other risk globally, yet improvement in diet could prevent 1 in 5 deaths.
Some sobering stats include that physical inactivity is responsible for 9% of premature deaths worldwide, yet 31% of adults worldwide (50% of South Africans) are physically inactive, he said.
“And we are eating the wrong types of food. In high-income countries, 50% of the kilojoule intake comes from ultra-processed foods and drinks. South Africans are eating twice the amount of sugar recommended (6 to 12 tsp a day),” he said.
“South Africans are also spending R41 billion on fast food per year, and 82% of teenagers are eating fast food at least once a week.”
Nossel said that countless global studies highlight the critical role of nutrition in helping to reduce the overwhelming burden of disease on society.
“Numerous studies show, for example, that cutting down on processed meats reduces cancer risk,” he said.
“The benefits of including more plant foods for heart health and reducing the risk of diabetes, are also well supported.”
Nossel said that Vitality advocates for a diet that gives preference to:
- Inclusion of a variety of minimally processed foods;
- Daily intake of plenty of vegetables and moderate amounts of fruit, in a variety of colours;
- Inclusion of wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds;
- Inclusion of healthy (unsaturated) fats and limiting saturated fats;
- Choosing healthy proteins like fish (especially oily fish), seafood, chicken, lean meat, or eggs daily, and avoiding processed meats.