Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said that the release of the findings of the South African National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey was evidence that there is reason for concern over the prevalence of chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension the country.
Motsoaledi was speaking at the launch of the survey in Pretoria on Tuesday. Compiled by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and the Medical Research Council, the survey provides a detailed look at the health of South Africans and the underlying factors that determine people's state of health.
In the study, the HSRC warns that "South Africa is heading for a disaster" if the number of people living with "chronic diseases of lifestyle" does not change. The problem of non-communicable diseases is, according to the study, presenting an "emerging epidemic".
Motsoaledi said that, apart from HIV, chronic diseases were becoming the highest cause of death in developing countries. Thirty percent of people who took part in the survey reported a family history of high blood pressure, while 16.5% said that they had high blood pressure.
The minister said the increase of people living with chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes was certainly going to put more pressure on the country's health system.
According to the study, obesity and being overweight were major risk factors for the development of chronic diseases. A fitness test found that 28% of men and 45% of women were unfit while people who lived in urban areas had the lowest fitness levels.
There was a higher prevalence of obesity in women than in men. Twenty percent of men and 68% of women had a waist circumference that put them at risk of developing chronic illnesses. This trend was also seen in children between the ages of two and 14 years where obesity and being overweight were higher in girls (16.5% of girls were overweight and 7% were obese) than in boys (11.5% of boys were overweight and 5% were obese). Among children, obesity and being overweight were highest in the two- to five-year age group, where 19% of girls were overweight and 5% were obese, while 17.5% of boys were overweight and 4% obese.
On the opposite end of the scale, less than half of South African families had enough food for all members to have a healthy, active lifestyle. Twenty-eight percent of families were at risk of hunger and 26% experienced hunger.
The study further looked into lifestyle choices that impact chronic diseases, such as smoking and binge drinking.