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26 October 2015

Obesity month – how to escape the epidemic

DietDoc alerts us to the alarming overweight statistics in South Africa and explains what can be done to address the problem.

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We recently celebrated World Food Day (16 October), and now we are in either National Obesity Week or National Obesity Month, depending on which articles you have read.

Read: National Nutrition Week focuses on 'Healthy Eating in the Workplace'

By now I think most South Africans are scared stiff by all the dire warnings and endless statistics that place us in top position when it comes to overweight (70% of adult women and 30% of men) and obesity (40% of adult women!).

Desperate situation

On 17 October Pretoria News published a photo of “Meow”, a 2-year-old cat weighing 17.7 kg, removed from her owners in the USA for what appears to be gross overfeeding. The poor animal eventually died. This story really got to me, because if we as human beings are so out of control that we even feed our pets to death, what hope is there for us as a species? 

Read: Fat camps offer pudgy pets 'pawlates' to slim down

Each one of us has a personal responsibility to pursue a healthy lifestyle which does not endanger our health. Adults who have children are responsible for keeping their children healthy and fit. Those who have pets should also keep an eye on their weight.

Individual needs and responsibilities

To achieve these goals, it has been repeatedly shown in study after study that we need the following:

- Insight and a sensible attitude

- Control of our emotions and reactions

- Education or knowledge passed from generation to generation regarding a healthy diet and sufficient exercise

- A living wage

- Access to a variety of healthy foods and clean water

- The knowledge to use our resources wisely to buy healthy foods to provide us with the maximum nutrient density and an adequate, not excessive amount of energy

- Plenty of physical exercise

- Sufficient restful sleep in a dark room

- Peace and safety so that we do not get stressed and produce excess fight-or-flight hormones

- Easy access to medical facilities with well-trained health professionals, equipment and medical supplies which will treat us when we do become ill

Governmental responsibilities

It is of course immediately evident, that like so many other vital issues involving high costs, most of the above mentioned important aspects of keeping weight in check are related to services provided by the government.

Read: State to take obese kids

The following aspects require active and sustained input from government:

- Education regarding healthy eating habits which should start in pre-primary school

- Eradication of poverty and jobs or grants for all members of the population who are responsible for the food intake of others; this must include women who are more often than not the sole breadwinners of extended families.

- A safe and healthy food supply that is not contaminated with pesticides, hormone disruptors and toxins, harmful fats or bogus nitrogen derived from Melamine

- Adult education for all who have to buy or prepare meals, women of all ages who may have babies, and caregivers of both sexes who look after children, teenagers and our senior citizens

- Safe environments where inhabitants can exercise and sleep in peace to ensure physical activity, rest and stress reduction

- Adequate medical facilities and well-trained staff who treat patients as individuals

What individuals can do

It is important that each one of us does our utmost to improve our knowledge of healthy diets, how to spend scarce money to obtain the best possible nutrient-dense foods, and how to stay active to ward off weight gain.

a) Reduce portion sizes and eat more vegetables

If you think that you are overweight, you can take the first steps by reducing the size of your portions of food slightly every week. For example, you could start with your staple foods and cut out one serving spoon of maize porridge, or half a slice of bread, or one teaspoon of fat or oil per week, until you have reduced your energy intake sufficiently to lose weight. Replace these staples with vegetables and raw salads. If these foods are expensive in your area, consider starting your own or a communal vegetable garden.

b) Become more physically active

Two of the best and cheapest physical activities are walking and skipping. You can start your “walking for fitness programme” in your own house, even if this means walking in your house or flat – if e.g. the area you live in is not safe. An alternative may be to ask your local church or sports club if you and your friends could gather in a hall to do exercises like skipping. Most schools have a playground where one can exercise in relative safety, especially if you’re in a group.

c) Be patient, reasonable and sensible

If you are 50 kg overweight, you are not going to lose the weight in a few days, weeks or even months. You need to be patient, realistic and sensible. It is going to take time, but if you keep at it, you will achieve your goal. You did not gain the weight in a month, so it is unreasonable to think that anything will make you shed 50 kg in 30 days. Money spent on expensive over-the-counter products could be used to buy seeds for a vegetable patch or skipping ropes for your exercise group.

d) Give each other support

If 7 out of 10 women in South Africa are overweight, and 4 of these women obese, there are certainly enough people you can join up with in your area for support and encouragement. Hold hands in this battle because you are not alone. Walk together, talk about your problems and find shared solutions. The women of this country have a proud record of overcoming insurmountable odds, so obesity is beatable if we help each other.

Read more:

World food day – SA needs real food, not fads

A healthy, low-fat slimming diet

Pharmacies and others should follow Woolies in removing sweets from the checkout aisle

Reference:

Heart Foundation (2015). National obesity week: South Africa’s weighty problem.

Dr Ingrid van Heerden is a registered dietician and holds a doctoral degree in Nutrition and Biochemistry. She believes that "we are what we eat" and offers free nutrition and weight loss advice via her DietDoc service on Health24.com. Read more of her articles.

 
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