Updated 31 August 2015

Healthy eating key to healthy lifestyle

Unhealthy diets and lack of exercise are among the leading causes of heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer in South Africa, the Medical Research Council has found.

"Healthy eating is a key component of a healthy lifestyle." This is the theme for Nutrition Week 2012, a national campaign running from 9 to 15 October 2012 to raise awareness about the impact of food and lifestyle choices on health.

The Medical Research Council (MRC) has found that unhealthy diets and lack of exercise are among the leading causes of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer in South Africa.

Its 2007 report of the South African Comparative Risk Assessment found that almost 8 million South Africans aged 30 years and older carry a risk for a chronic lifestyle disease because of high cholesterol. About 59% of ischaemic heart disease and 29% of ischaemic stroke were found to be attributable to high cholesterol. The report has also found 5.5% of adults (30 years and older) to have diabetes.

The risks of both type 2 diabetes and cholesterol can be lowered with a healthy eating plan, regular exercise and maintaning a healthy weight.


According to the MRC report, poor eating habits are evident in the ever-increasing number of overweight / obese adults and children. Over 50% of South African adult females and 17% of children (aged 1 – 9 years) are overweight or obese. The largest proportion of deaths attributable to excess body weight occurred in the 45 – 59 year old age group. 

Eating patterns have changed in recent years with greater consumption of more processed foods as well as those foods that contained less fibre, more saturated fat and more salt. The fact that a quarter of the adult population in South Africa has risk factors for high blood pressure is exasperated by obesity, excessive alcohol consumption and a high salt (sodium) and low vegetable, bean and milk intake.

To address these problems, National Nutrition Week 2012 encourages all South Africans to use the updated Guidelines for Healthy Eating to make healthy food choices, to choose foods that provide essential nutrients and to eat a variety of foods from each of the primary food groups, in the correct quantities and according to their needs.

Read more:

Nutrition in a nutshell

10 rules for a balanced diet

The benefits of good nutrition


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