Updated 03 June 2015

SA has a big fat problem - academic

South Africa has a fat problem, with women having a bigger problem than men and youth being the third most obese in the world, says a professor.


Johannesburg - South Africa has a fat problem, with our children being the third most obese in the world, a North West University (NWU) professor said on Wednesday.

"Anthropometric data of South Africans has changed considerably during the last three decades," Professor Hans de Ridder of NWU's school of biokinetics, recreation and sports science said in a statement.

"We are experiencing a large increase in overweight and obesity in adults as well as children. Research shows that nearly two-thirds of the South African population is overweight."

Read: Some South African teens are obese while others are too skinny

Anthropometry is the science behind measuring people’s bodies for health and sports purposes. It is used to classify people according to obesity, overweight, and BMI to determine whether or not they pose a health risk.

Anthropometrists take basic measurements such as skin folds, limb and trunk circumferences, and skeletal leg lengths, plus more advanced measurements such as percentage body fat, body volumes, and surface areas.

De Ridder said contrary to the case in other developed countries, women in South Africa had a bigger problem than men, with around 70 percent of all women being overweight.

Approximately 38 percent of overweight women - around four in every 10 - are classified as clinically obese. This meant a body mass index (BMI) of more than 30.

Read: 40 percent of SA women are overweight

"We define obesity as the abnormal or excessive accumulation of fat in the human body that holds health risks such as, inter alia, cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure and diabetes," De Ridder said.

He attributed this increase in weight to an unhealthy lifestyle that could, among other things, include an excessive consumption of unhealthy or wrong food, and particularly too little exercise.

Children were also measured and monitored for growth, maturation and particularly obesity and undernutrition.

"Earlier research at the NWU proved that South African children have, alongside America and Britain, the third highest obesity figure in the world," De Ridder said.

Read: We have an absolute epidemic of obesity in SA

"Children who walk less than ten thousand paces per day run the risk of being diagnosed with chronic diseases such as obesity, high blood pressure, cholesterol or type 2 diabetes."

It was therefore crucially important that children be active from a young age.

"They must play, do PE at school, take part in sport and follow an active lifestyle," the professor said.

"The role our schools and especially the parents play in this regard is also extremely important to ensure that our South African children maintain an active and healthy lifestyle."

De Ridder is the only level four anthropometrist in Africa, among only 16 worldwide qualified at the highest level.

Also read:

Obesity in SA: where will it end?

Portion sizes: getting it right

Why we get fat, according to Gary Taubes



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