Obesity — the silent killer

October 15 to 19 is National Obesity Week and it aims to improve awareness of obesity. The Government Employees Medical Scheme would like to provide you with some information on obesity and how to overcome it.

Obesity can be dangerous to one’s health. Many South Africans are unaware of the dangers of being overweight. Even children are becoming obese, which can expose them to a number of health risks as they get older. It has been estimated that one in five South African children is either overweight or obese.

Being overweight is, as the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa points out, usually the result of an energy imbalance in which one’s energy intake has been greater than the energy used over a number of years. The foundation points out that there are a number of factors associated with obesity:

  • Eating too much of the wrong types of food (such as takeaways and animal fats);
  • Lack of exercise;
  • Family history — if parents are overweight, children often follow the pattern;
  • Pregnancy — the more pregnancies a woman has, the more likely she is to put on weight; and
  • Negative emotions, which can cause some people to eat as a comfort mechanism.

If you thought it was safe to be overweight, think again. The foundation says that being overweight can increase the risk of developing the following health problems: heart disease (extra weight puts strain on the heart); high cholesterol levels, which can increase the danger of heart attack and stroke; diabetes; certain cancers; arthritis; gallstones; sleep apnoea; slower healing and increased susceptibility to infections; and psychological problems (obese people may feel very insecure about their weight).


Type II diabetes is becoming more prevalent in South Africa as the number of overweight people increases. This is because diabetes is often associated with obesity — those with a wide stomach girth are particularly at risk of developing it.

All is not doom and gloom for the overweight. Even small losses in weight can have health benefits.

With 150 minutes of exercise a week and a reduction of between 5% and 7% of your body fat, you can lower your risk of developing diabetes by 58%, or more than half. Losing between 5% and 10% of your weight and getting some exercise can also substantially lower your risk of heart disease and cancer.

There are a number of diets advertised, but avoid anything that promises a quick-fix solution. Rather see a dietician who can advise on how you can most effectively lose weight.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends the following lifestyle changes for those who want to lose weight:

  • Exercise regularly;
  • Increase your intake of fibre, which makes your stomach feel fuller for longer;
  • Eat at least five portions of vegetables and fruit daily;
  • Use healthier cooking methods such as steaming, boiling and grilling;
  • Limit the amount of extra fats in your diet, such as butter, cream, mayonnaise, dressings and oil;
  • Limit your salt intake, because salt makes your body retain water; and
  • Drink between six to eight glasses of water a day.

References: www.heartfoundation.co.za, www.ananzimen.co.za, www.kwevoel.co.za

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