Obesity epidemic in South Africa

July 29, 2017

As I shared on this blog yesterday, obesity is a subject that attracts plenty of attention in the society from street to coffee shops. In my view, it is not surprising since it is the most serious health issue facing most people nowadays.Families are struggling to control the epidemic of obesity and related chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes. Diabesity which is a reference term for the close link between obesity and diabetes, is a huge problem facing hundreds of millions of people worldwide.Diabesity is shaping as the biggest chronic disease epidemic in many families. According to a medical researcher based in Cape Town, South Africa, it also leads to the onset of other debilitating and costly illnesses such as heart disease, certain cancers, musculoskeletal disorders and obstructive sleep apnoea. In her studies that have covered majority of South Africa’s cities, diabesity epidemic continues unabated and situation is only getting worse. She believes that response to obesity has been very disappointing not only in South Africa but across the world. She questions South Africa commitment to the recommendations given by different researchers, as well as the effectiveness of the limited interventions that have been put in place.Many in South Africa community, including politicians, have a simplistic view of the causes of obesity. They blame factors such as laziness and ready access to attractive, energy-dense foods. This fallacy is fuelled by the mainstream South Africa media, which reinforces the idea that the obesity crisis is primarily caused by sloth and gluttony.Such views invite a passive response and allow Pretoria government to retreat to the message of individual responsibility.

Yet, in reality, as stated by the latest South Africa obesity report, the causes of obesity are embedded in an extremely complex biological system, set within an equally complex societal framework.Obesity is a highly complex disease and nearly every drug developed for it so far hasn’t proved safe enough. Based on her view, the strategy to tackle obesity in South Africa, a country of over 50 million people, needs to be based around an understanding of its complexity and not on a half-hearted collection of disparate and unconnected measures that are unlikely to address a burgeoning epidemic of this magnitude. She also told your blogger that there are still no reliable South Africa monitoring data on diabesity and a distinct lack of evidence to suggest that we are winning the war.Despite the important recommendations of the health experts, initiatives to address the obesity crisis in South Africa have been fragmented, with million dollars being spent on social marketing initiatives that have little impact on the ground. It’s not clear how such campaigns are being evaluated and whether they will have any impact on the obesity epidemic without other major, well-funded initiatives across South Africa. Fundamental to both the treatment of obesity and its prevention is a strong research framework. For South Africa government and public health bureaucrats, there is a compelling need to change the myth that sloth and sedentary behaviours are largely responsible for obesity in the country. She believes its time to get beyond the blame game, which inevitably seems to end with responsibility for controlling obesity being laid at the feet of individuals. Her view is that South Africa politicians and bureaucrats need to recognise the fundamental change in thinking of scientists and public health researchers about the underlying drivers of the obesity epidemic.

Contador Harrison