More than 29% of South African men and 56% of South African women are classified as overweight or obese, and there is a growing concern that obesity is no longer only a problem among adults. More and more children are affected too.
In the United States, teens and young adults are suddenly dying at higher than usual rates from heart attacks. Although researchers say they don't have enough information to identify the reason for the deaths, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have a strong suspicion that the underlying cause is the rapid rise in obesity among the young over the past two decades.
A South African MRC report shows that childhood obesity has negative health implications with approximately 60% of overweight 5-10-year-old children presenting with at least one associated cardiovascular risk factor and 25% presenting with two or more risk factors. For example, a tremendous increase in type 2 diabetes in children and teenagers has been documented.
As South Africa assimilates western culture, more people adopt an unhealthy western diet and lifestyle of high fat foods, little or no exercise and very little fibre, fresh fruit and vegetables. These factors all contribute to the development of heart disease, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa.
Dr Mary Sawyer, who runs an Adolescent Primary Care and Prevention Clinic in Georgia, USA believes that children are also eating more junk food as a result of fewer numbers of families cooking meals at home. "They're getting lots of salt, lots of fat, lots of sugar,” she says, “while becoming less physically active as other interests, such as computer games and television, take up more of their time.” This situation is certainly also true for many South African children.
Excess weight can put strain on the heart as it tries to pump blood through the body at an increased rate, burdening the heart, which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Obesity also lends itself to other major risk factors such as stroke, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol levels and diabetes.
Parents can play an important role in preventing and treating obesity in their children. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that parent intervention in getting children to lose excess weight had greater results than when children worked alone with a dietician.
A change in lifestyle can beat obesity and reduce heart disease. There are, however, no miracle cures or quick fixes. Here are a few tips from the Foundation:
- Give children food from all food groups - fruit, vegetables, dairy products, whole-grain breads, cereals, legumes, pasta, lean meat and fish or skinless poultry;
- Help children to maintain a healthy, realistic goal weight;
- Teach them to use sugar and salt in moderation;
- Educate children about the hazards of smoking and excessive alcohol intake;
- Encourage them to take part in regular aerobic exercise such as swimming and running;
- Obesity is especially prevalent in black females, as it has status and is seen as a mark of success. Yet the traditional African diet is healthy and should be encouraged. It is the quantity consumed and what is added to staple foods that must be controlled.
Here are some guidelines when planning traditional food purchases:
- Staple foods
Although mieliepap is a staple food, it does not contain enough vitamins and minerals or roughage to keep the body healthy. It is therefore important to include a variety of vegetables with staple foods every day. Another option to mieliepap is samp or mielie rice, which is high in fibre.
- Red meat
To reduce the fat intake when preparing meat, all visible fat should be cut off as the meat already contains a lot of invisible fat. Skinless chicken or fish is a better choice.
- Cooking oil
Cooking oil, when heated at high temperatures for a long period of time causes the blood cholesterol to increase. Constant use of too much oil will also lead to obesity.
Too much salt increases high blood pressure and causes the body to retain water. The more salt you use, the more water you should drink to cleanse the system. No one should use more than one teaspoon of salt per day. If you have high blood pressure or are obese, you should use even less.
- More than one fat per meal
When making sandwiches, we often use more than one fat. For example, when making a peanut butter sandwich, we use margarine and peanut butter. This way we consume two fats. Peanut butter contains enough fat and must be used without margarine.
- (The Heart and Stroke Foundation, Health24, updated May 2010)