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How obesity affects South African women



Experts warn that 50% of South African women may be obese by 2030, posing serious health and social challenges.

As South Africa grapples with a rising tide of overweight and obese people, alarming predictions from the World Obesity Atlas 2022-23 highlight a particularly dire outlook for the female population.

Experts warn that if current trends persist, a staggering 50% of South African women will be classified as obese by 2030, making it the highest predicted obesity rate in Africa.

While the health risks associated with obesity are well-documented, experts emphasise that the impact extends beyond physical health, affecting mental well-being, social relationships, and economic opportunities.

Multifaceted challenges

Prof Salome Kruger, a leading authority on nutrition, underscores the multifaceted challenges faced by South African women in combating obesity.

One significant hurdle is the unequal burden of responsibilities borne by women, particularly in terms of childcare and household duties.

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This disparity often leaves women with limited time for physical activity, further exacerbated by safety concerns in many South African neighbourhoods.

Kruger highlighted the pervasive-based violence that restricts women’s access to outdoor exercise, compounding the obesity crisis.

Furthermore, South Africa’s food landscape, characterised by “food deserts”, perpetuates unhealthy eating habits.

The prevalence of calorie-dense but nutrient-poor foods contributes to obesity rates, with limited access to fresh produce exacerbating the problem.

Only scratching the surface

In an interview with Daily Maverick, Prof Susan Goldstein, deputy director of the South African Medical Research Council/ Wits Centre for Health Economics and Decision Science, said: “It’s a start and it’s much better than the previous strategy. But it still only scratches the surface.”

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She also noted that it was disjointed, since the initial overview of the problem is at odds with the planned interventions.

The impact of obesity on women’s fertility was also a pressing concern. Maria van der Merwe, president of the Association for Dietetics in South Africa, stressed the hormonal disruptions and fertility challenges associated with excess weight.

She said these issues not only affect women’s ability to conceive but also pose risks to healthy pregnancy and childbirth.

Comprehensive solutions

In response to these challenges, experts advocate for comprehensive solutions that encompass dietary changes and increased physical activity.

Emphasising the importance of awareness and education, Van der Merwe urges South African women to prioritise their health and seek assistance in managing obesity.

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