South Africa records the highest rates of obesity in Africa with statistics that dsindicate that 29% of men and 56% of women are either obese or overweight, according to the World Health Organisation (Morris, 2011). The increase in prevalence of obesity has seen it become a primary risk factor for sedentary lifestyle related diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. Obesity as a health issue in South Africa will be discussed.
Rates of obesity in South Africa have progressively increased. Obesity has been defined as the presence of excess body weight in an individual (Brannon & Feist, 2006). In terms of the biomedical view on obesity, obesity is measured in terms of Body Mass Index (BMI). The BMI has been found to be useful in identifying excess body weight as it tracks the percentage of body fat and gives a an estimate of the health risk as a result of any excess weight (Morris, 2011). BMI values > 30kg/ m² are considered or recognised as obesity (Morris, 2011). Obesity is characterised by alterations in metabolic functions that result from an increase in total body fat mass as well as the accumulation of visceral adipose tissue (van der Merwe & Pepper, 2006). The metabolic alterations are strongly associated with the development of comorbid diseases such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease (van der Merwe & Pepper, 2006).
Obesity has been associated with certain forms of chronic diseases namely sleep apnoea, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes (type 2) (Du Toit & Van der Walt, 2009). These are the most common diseases associated with obesity. In terms of the South African context, impacting contributing factors for obesity include low exercise levels, consuming unhealthy fatty foods and high dietary energy (van der Merwe & Pepper, 2006). These risk factors are relevant mainly to people who live in urban areas, however, these are by no means the only factors that impact on obesity levels.
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