Half of South Africans gained weight as they stress ate through all the Covid-19 bad news
Half of South Africans gained weight during the Covid-19 pandemic, with 69% of them now bordering on obese.
According to a national survey conducted in the past two months among almost 2,000 South African adults, 43% of respondents attributed their change in eating habits to stress and anxiety over what the future holds, 42% said being confined to their homes led to more snacking and impulsive eating, and 28% simply ate out of boredom.
The survey was commissioned by Pharma Dynamics, a provider of cardiovascular medicine, to assess the effect of the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown on the nation’s eating and exercise patterns.
The survey shows that the nation’s jump in weight in the past 12 months significantly increases the population’s risk of hypertension, which already stood at 35% before the pandemic.
Nicole Jennings, spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics, said it was clear that lockdown promoted dysfunctional eating and sedentary behaviours, which need to be overturned.
Jennings said they are concerned about the long-term, negative effects that lockdown regulations have on SA’s obesity epidemic.
“Treats and calories are up while exercise is down, which is never a healthy combination. Limited access to daily grocery shopping may have led to reduced consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables in favour of highly processed food. In times of stress and uncertainty, people also find solace in comfort food, which tends to be low in nutritional value and high in carbohydrates, fats, salt and sugar,” she said.
Forty-five percent of respondents revealed that lockdown regulations affected their eating and exercise habits for the worse. Forty-four percent picked up 2kg-5kg; 15% are 6kg-10kg heavier and 4% gained an extra 10kg or more.
Jennings said the constant bombardment of Covid-19 news is stressful, and stress leads to overeating.
Noting that participants were asked to calculate their body mass index (BMI), she said the findings indicated that 69% (almost seven in 10) of respondents polled ranged between overweight and obese.
“Female obesity rates align with previous data collected in 2019 by another health provider, but men seem to have really struggled with their weight during the pandemic. Based on our survey, obesity rates among men climbed by 40%,” said Jennings.
The SA National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) now reports a combined overweight and obesity prevalence of 13.5% in children aged 6-14 — about 10% higher than the global prevalence.
Jennings said while Covid-19 remains a public health threat, concurrent epidemics should not be neglected.
“While a sugar tax has been introduced, there is a need for additional legislative changes that focus on societal factors and the food industry. Health policymakers need to take bolder and more definitive steps to curb obesity. SA’s obesity-associated costs already stack up to an estimated R53.9bn a year, which puts a tremendous strain on our already fragile healthcare system.”
While the vast majority (88%) are aware that obesity heightens a person’s risk for severe Covid-19 complications, 19% of those polled said they won’t be making any attempt to address their weight issues.
Jennings said should the pandemic trend prevail, obesity may get much worse.
“Moving towards a healthier lifestyle is crucial, especially while we are still battling Covid-19. Now that everyone is accustomed to the new normal, let’s be proactive about establishing new, healthier habits to see us through the pandemic.”
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