South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC)
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Media statement

29 May 2014

South African women show high levels of obesity and overweight

Leading scientific Journal, The Lancet, released a paper on the global, regional and national prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adults during 1980-2013. According to the report, the highest rate of obesity and overweight among adults in sub-Saharan Africa is found in South African women at 42%, while the combined rate of both overweight and obesity is 69.3%. South African men showed a 39% overall prevalence rate, with only a 14% obesity prevalence.  South African boys had a 19% overweight or obesity prevalence weight, versus 26% in girls.

“Obesity, both in South Africa and around the world, is essentially driven by environmental changes such as urbanisation and accompanying modernisation of cultures which promote the adoption of unhealthy lifestyle including unhealthy eating habits and decreased physical activity,” says Director of the Non-Communicable Diseases Research Unit at the SA Medical Research Council Professor Andre Pascal Kengne.

This first of its kind report was released today and was prepared by the Global Burden of Diseases (GBD) 2013 Expert group, led by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington in the USA.

While it reveals that South African women are obese, it also shows that a gender gap prevails across the region where men show significantly lower obesity rates than women.

The study, which collected data from 188 countries, suggests that a gender gap is prevalent in other sub-Saharan African countries. In Botswana, adult females had a 53% prevalence rate, and adult males had less than half of that at 22%. Large gender gaps in adult obesity were also found in Comoros (6% men, 21% female). Other countries, such as Nigeria (12% male, 10% female) and Rwanda (3% female, 2% male), had much closer rates.

“This disease (obesity) will have major implications the healthcare systems in the region as they will face increasing demand for care for health conditions related to obesity/overweight such as diabetes mellitus, osteoarthritis, cancers and major cardiovascular diseases. Some of these conditions such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes are already among the top leading causes of deaths in the country,” says Professor Kengne who is also a member of the GBD 2013 expert group.

“This is very sobering data.  The epidemic of obesity in our country will affect morbidity and mortality and lead to unnecessary premature deaths.  We need innovative interventions to curb obesity in our society,” says Professor Glenda Gray President of the SA Medical Research Council.  

For More Information more information on the Lancet article visit:

What is obesity/overweight?
Overweight is defined as having a Body Mass Index (BMI), or weight-to-height ratio, greater than or equal to 25 and lower than 30, while obesity is defined as having a BMI equal to or greater than 30.

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