As we observe National Obesity Week (16 – 19 October 2023), it’s crucial to question how our society has arrived at this point. The alarming surge in obesity rates is not a random occurrence but a result of complex, intertwined factors. The modern way of living has made us all a little too comfortable, with profound implications for our health. At The Noakes Foundation, we advocate for a low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diet as an evidence-based approach to combating this growing health crisis. Let’s explore the complexity of obesity and how adopting an LCHF diet can make a difference.
Eye-opening global statistics on obesity:
- Worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975.
- In 2016:
- more than 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and older, were overweight. Of these over 650 million were obese.
- 39% of adults aged 18 years and over were overweight, and 13% were obese.
- Most of the world’s population lives in countries where being overweight or suffering from obesity kills more people than being underweight.
- In 2020:
- 39 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese
South Africa is facing a significant problem with obesity. Here are some national statistics:
- Roughly 31% of men and 68% of women in South Africa are obese.
- In a recent survey, it was found that 61% of the South African population is overweight, obese, or morbidly obese.
- Half of all adults in South Africa are overweight (23%) or obese (27%).
- Overweight and obesity in South Africa have been linked to economic growth and nutritional transition.
South Africa is currently facing a growing obesity crisis, a trend that closely mirrors what is happening on a global scale. According to a recent study, overweight and obesity impose a huge financial burden on the public healthcare system in South Africa. It suggests an urgent need for preventive, population-level interventions to reduce overweight and obesity rates.
Obesity is a global health concern, and South Africa is no exception, ranking third in the world according to Compass Gt. roup Southern Africa’s 2011 This makes South Africa the first developing country to appear on this list, serving as an example of how the obesity epidemic is becoming a challenge for non-first-world countries as well.
29 years after its first democratic election, South Africa is in the midst of a profound health and food security transition that is characterized by a quadruple burden of communicable, non-communicable, and related diseases that stem from poor nutrition and lifestyle. Among them is the emerging trend of obesity in both rural and urban areas, most prominently less fortunate people living in urban settings, and is resulting in increasing pressure on food security systems and on acute and chronic healthcare services.
In recent years, food habits have progressively changed. The combination of changes in food patterns, coupled with a lack of nutritional education, and limited access to individualized nutritional information, has contributed largely to a significant increase in the prevalence of obesity. Low-income and urban poverty-stricken communities across the country, as such vulnerable populations, continue to be severely affected.
We need grassroots community-based programs like Eat Better South Africa, which combine nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions, with sustainable goals. This will provide access to a strong network of community-based health coaches, who will apply and facilitate community-driven nutrition education programs that generate an understanding of nutrition and health reality, values, and beliefs of South African communities. These changes need to be applied to the existing values, attitudes, beliefs, discourse, and patterns of diet and lifestyle, whether explicit or implicit (e.g., rules of thumb or accepted practices) to Eat Better South Africa’s program participants and those they interact with.
Eat Better South Africa is a non-profit organization that operates at grassroots levels within South African low-income and urban poverty-stricken communities, to support the local public healthcare systems while establishing stable food security support systems through education, advocacy, and knowledge sharing approach. The primary objective of Eat Better South Africa is to build long-term, health-promoting environments and to create sustainable and community-driven change by empowering individuals, families, and communities to improve their general health and well-being. While creating awareness among participants about what they can do for themselves to improve their health, and the importance of nutrition as a medium in the prevention, treatment, and management of diseases that stem from poor nutrition and lifestyles, as well, as non-communicable diseases.
Obesity contributes significantly to a range of metabolic diseases that can have serious and often life-threatening consequences. Excess body fat can disrupt the body’s normal metabolic processes, leading to a cascade of health issues. Conditions such as type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) are closely associated with obesity.
Metabolic syndrome involves a cluster of conditions, including high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, and elevated blood sugar, all of which elevate the risk of heart disease. Obesity-related liver conditions, like NAFLD, can progress to more severe forms of liver disease. Collectively, these metabolic diseases highlight the intricate relationship between obesity and systemic health, underscoring the importance of addressing and managing obesity as a preventive measure.
Obesity is not just a concern for adults, it affects all age groups. Shockingly, we are witnessing the rise of obesity in infants and children, with lifelong health consequences. The choices and habits we establish during childhood have a profound impact on our future health. Childhood obesity has become an alarming issue, with children facing a higher risk of developing chronic diseases at an earlier age. Teenagers are grappling with body image issues and an increased risk of obesity-related conditions, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The obesity epidemic persists into adulthood, contributing to a host of health problems, from joint pain to heart disease.
At The Noakes Foundation, we emphasize the benefits of an LCHF diet. This dietary approach can help individuals of all ages regain control over their health and combat obesity. The LCHF diet has gained recognition for its potential benefits in improving health. Research suggests that this dietary approach may help stabilize blood sugar levels, making it an effective strategy for managing conditions like type 2 diabetes and obesity. LCHF diets have been shown to improve all markers of cardiovascular risk, lower blood glucose, insulin, triglyceride, glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c) levels, blood pressure, and body weight while increasing low HDL-cholesterol concentrations, and reversing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
If you are interested in the topic of obesity, the risks associated with it, and how Therapeutic Carbohydrate Restriction and keto nutrition may be used in clinical practice to manage and reverse obesity and its associated conditions, Nutrition Network provides online training in Obesity Risk and Reversal for Medical and Allied Healthcare professionals.
In conclusion, the observance of National Obesity Week prompts us to question the societal factors contributing to this pervasive health challenge. The exponential rise in global obesity rates is a consequence of intricate, interconnected factors that have reshaped our way of life, and the impact of this shift on our health is profound. South Africa is not immune to this trend, with significant proportions of its population affected by overweight and obesity. These statistics underscore the urgent need for comprehensive and population-wide strategies to address and mitigate this crisis. The lessons learned during Obesity Week should extend beyond these days to inform our daily choices, enhancing our well-being and challenging the status quo.
Action-Obesity Africa. SOUTH AFRICA: ARTICLE Causes of Obesity in Adults South Africa. https://www.action-obesityafrica.org/south-africa-article-causes-of-obesity-in-adults-south-africa
Data World Obesity: https://data.worldobesity.org/rankings/
Our world in data: https://ourworldindata.org/obesity
Westman, E. C., et al. (2007). Low-carbohydrate nutrition and metabolism. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 86(2), 276-284.
Wits University. Obesity costs South Africa billions. We did the sums. https://www.wits.ac.za/news/latest-news/opinion/2022/2022-09/obesity-costs-south-africa-billions-we-did-the-sums.html
World Health Federation: https://world-heart-federation.org/what-we-do/obesity/
World Health Organization: Obesity and Overweight. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/obesity-and-overweight
World Health Organization. Obesity. https://www.afro.who.int/health-topics/obesity
World Obesity.org: https://www.worldobesity.org/about/about-obesity/prevalence-of-obesity