“Obese” SA Ranked Unhealthiest Country In World — Here’s What We Need To Do To Lose Weight

It doesn't have to be complicated.


Chandré Davids |

So South Africa was ranked the unhealthiest country. In. The. World. Oof. And we need to do something about it. Let’s start with cleaning up our nutrition.

Was that a giant sigh?

Yeah, it’s hard. The internet is filled with so much info about how to eat healthily that it’s actually become overwhelming. Between the fad diets, food trends, superfoods and the long list of dos and don’ts – healthy eating just seems, well, complicated.

Add to that our industrialised food system, all that ultra-processed fast food aimed at our ‘convenience’ – and we’ve moved further and further away from nutritious food.

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But obesity is a national problem, and we need to do something about it…

Carol Browne of the Nutrition Society of South Africa (NSSA) points out that the obesity rates in SA are alarming. “Approximately 13.3% of South African children under five years of age are overweight or obese; and according to the 2012 South African Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (SANHANES), 14.2% children aged six to 14 years are overweight or obese,” she explains.

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And amongst adults, the numbers are even worse. According to the 2016 South Africa Demographic and Health Survey, 68% of women and 31% of men in South Africa are overweight or obese. Severe obesity is life-threatening and affects around 20% of women and 3% of men, she says.

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The devastating results

This year, SA was ranked as the unhealthiest country in the world by The Indigo Wellness Index – an index based on factors such as life expectancy, obesity, depression and inactivity. Our unhealthy habits led to the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA) reporting 225 cardiovascular disease-related deaths (CVD) per day. HSFSA’s CEO Professor Pamela Naidoo says: “South Africa has one of the highest rates of overweight and obesity in the world, a major contributor to diabetes, which in turn is a risk factor for CVD.”

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Small changes, major benefits

Changing the obesity stats in SA means addressing our problem nutrition. Eating healthy foods doesn’t have to be challenging, nor does it mean completing giving up your favourite foods. In fact, according to registered dietician and ADSA spokesperson Jessica Byrne, if you want to stay on track for the long run, moderation is key.

“Rather than putting yourself under unnecessary pressure to always make the healthy choice, try using the 80:20 principle: 80% of the time make the healthier choice, and then allow yourself that 20% for a treat now and then, without feeling guilty about it,” she suggests.

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When it comes to the types of foods you should be including in your meals, whole foods are best. These are foods that are not processed or minimally processed – think vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes.

Jessica’s advice: Set a goal to eat fruit and vegetables every day, or to include dry beans, peas, lentils or soya in your meals a few times a week. Also, don’t forget about hydration. Choose water instead of sugary drinks, and plan and prepare healthy home meals rather than buying ready-to-eat meals/snacks or eating out frequently.

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