Updated 03 April 2014

Do South Africans take care of themselves?

The results of Health24's Healthy Habits survey are out - get the key findings.

Are South Africans striving to live their best lives or are we in denial about health issues? Health24's Healthy Habits survey set out to find answers. Here are some of the key findings:

Don't underestimate the big killers

One concerning trend that emerged from the survey was that many South Africans may be living undiagnosed with common, potentially serious, chronic conditions.

For example, only 8% of respondents said that they had heart disease; while 4% said they had diabetes. Less than 1% claimed not to have atherosclerosis.

These are all underestimates of the likely incidence of these conditions. In South Africa, about 1 in 3 men (over 30%) and 1 in 4 women (25%) will have a heart condition before age 60.

Read: Heart disease - the risk factors

About 6% of the South African population are diagnosed with diabetes, but millions more remain undiagnosed. It is estimated that another five million South Africans have pre-diabetes, a condition where insulin resistance causes blood glucose levels to be higher than normal, but not high enough yet to be type 2 diabetes. Pre-diabetes is often a precursor to diabetes.

Read: Pre-diabetes: could you have it?

Heart disease and diabetes can be "silent" diseases in that they often progress over several years before symptoms become apparent. Atherosclerosis can begin even in youth.

This is why it's so important to get your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar tested regularly so that should these be high, you and your doctor can manage them to reduce your risk.

Read: Diabetes tsunami hits South Africa

Are we in denial about mental illness?

Lack of awareness or denial about mental illness by South Africans was also strongly suggested by the survey results. Only 9% of respondents claimed they suffered from a mood disorderor mental illness: far more likely, this reflects the percentage of people who've been diagnosed with mental illness, not the percentage actually suffering from it.

Experts estimate that in fact around 25% of South Africans suffer from mental health disorders, but only 10-15% seek help.

Read: Mental health: it's time to talk

Smoking habits and attitudes

Survey responses to questions relating to smoking habits indicate that, although the numbers of smokers in the country are still unacceptably high, incidence of smoking is starting to drop.

Nineteen percent of respondents said they don’t smoke – a significant improvement since the 1990s, when about a third of the South African population smoked.

One of the primary reasons for the drop in smoking incidence is stricter anti-smoking legislation, and the public's adherence to it.

Following a trend evident in previous Health24 Smoking Surveys, most South Africans respect the law in this regard. For example, of smokers, 86% said they wouldn’t smoke in a car if children or other non-smoking passengers are present. (It's illegal to smoke in a vehicle if any of the passengers are under 12 years old.)

There is less tolerance for the habit generally: the majority of people (69%) said they can’t stand second-hand smoke.

Read: Ground-breaking SA smoking study leads to new insights

Alcohol and drug use

Seventy-three percent of respondents said they drink alcohol, mostly socially; a minority admitted they drink alcohol daily.

When it came to illegal drugs, however, nearly everyone said they never use them, and 83% hate the fact that others do. Women were somewhat more likely to object to drug use than men were.

Read more:
10 tips that will save you from heart trouble
How to ease into the gym lifestyle

Image: yoga: Shutterstock


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