Updated 20 March 2014

Metabolic Syndrome, a weighty issue worldwide

International and local statistics reveal a frightening increase in the last three decades in the prevalence of people who are overweight and obese.

As excess weight (specifically central obesity) is linked to Metabolic Syndrome and many of the chronic lifestyle-related diseases this represents a significant health crisis which needs to be addressed.

International trends

In the 1970’s obesity prevalence data in countries across the world, showed very few obese people in almost all the countries. In 2010 the picture is quite different.

If we take the USA, correctly recognised as one of the countries with the worst obesity rates, the same trend applies. In 1985, not a single state in the USA reported obesity rates of greater than 15%. Only  11 states reported rates of between 10 and 15%, eight states had less than 10% and 30 states reported no obesity to speak of.

2010 data for the USA reveals the dramatic rise of obesity - not a single state in the USA was able to report having adult obesity prevalence of less than 15%.  Rather, of the 49 states, 36 had adult obesity rates greater than 25%, and of these states 13 states had obesity rates greater than 30%. This means that in these states one in three adults is obese – not just overweight – but obese.

South Africa at risk

In South Africa, we find ourselves in a similar position to that of the USA. The South African Medical Research Council’s Chronic Diseases of Lifestyle 1995 -2005 report reveals that 29% of all men and 56% of all women were overweight or obese by 2005. Women in particular are particularly vulnerable to this key aspect of the metabolic syndrome, with research revealing that 30% of women aged between 30 and 59 years of age were obese at the time of the survey. It is likely that this situation has since worsened.


Another report published in 2002 (The South African Demographic and Health Survey), revealed that of almost 8000 women surveyed, aged between 19 and 95 years of age, the prevalence of overweight and obesity was highest amongst black women (58.5%), followed by coloured women (52%), white women (49.2%) and women of South Asian ancestry (48.0%). Urbanisation was associated with women becoming overweight or obese.


For men, the picture is somewhat different.  In just over 5000 men aged between 19 and 95 years, white men had the highest prevalence (54.5%) followed by men of South Asian ancestry (32.7%), then coloured men (31%) and finally black men (25%). As with women, urbanisation and older age are significantly associated with overweight and obesity. Anecdotal data appears to suggest a worsening of the situation.

Children and teens

Sadly, the picture for our children is no better, with increasing prevalence especially amongst girls living in urban areas, again pointing to the effects of increasing urbanisation and with it, changes in lifestyle. The Youth Risk Behaviour Survey of 2002 found that for adolescents,  17%  were overweight and 4.2% were obese. In predicting future prevalence rates it is suggested that almost 37% of black girls will be obese by age 18, while 20% of coloured and 10% of white girls will be classified similarly at the same age.

Fighting the trend, one person at a time

Metabolic Syndrome, overweight and obesity are associated with many serious chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, some cancers and dementias. It is therefore essential that we take responsibility for turning this deadly trend around to improve our nation’s health and life expectancy.

If you feel you may have Metabolic Syndrome, or you would like help to lose weight, visit a Dis-Chem pharmacy, get tested and get help. Met-S Care works with Dis-Chem Pharmacies to empower people living with Metabolic Syndrome to take control of their condition.