Beware of obesity

Diabetes, heart disease and stroke are but a few of the implications obesity holds for millions of women around the world.

Diabetes, heart disease and stroke are but a few of the implications obesity holds for millions of women around the world.

Today is International Day of Action for Women's Health and we are looking at the burden South African women carry because of this condition.

More than 56percent of South African women and 29percent of men are classified as overweight or obese, according to a technical report by the Medical Research Council (MRC) in 2006.

This is higher than the figures reported in other African countries, particularly for women. Nearly 30percent of South African women aged between 30 and 59 are obese.

According to a study published in the SA Medical Journal by Joubert et al, a great percentage of incidents of life-threatening diseases can be attributed to overweight and obesity. The statistics are as follows:

l 87percent of type 2 diabetes.

l 68percent of hypertension.

l 61percent of endometrial cancer.

l 45percent of ischaemic stroke.

l 38percent of heart attacks.

l 31percent of kidney cancer.

l 24percent of osteoarthritis.

l 17percent of colon cancer.

l 13percent of post-menopausal breast cancer.

Women and obesity

"South African women are caught in a spiral of ever-increasing weight, and are exposed to diseases such as diabetes, stroke and heart attacks," dietician Dr Ingrid van Heerden wrote in the report.

She said studies show that women of all population groups are more prone to being overweight and obese than their male counterparts, placing them at a higher risk of developing disease.

In a sample of 7726 women aged 15 to 95 years, black women had the highest prevalence of excess weight and obesity (58,5 percent), followed by women of mixed ancestry (52 percent), white women (49,2 percent) and then Indian women (48,9 percent).

Contributing factors

"Obesity is one of the modern world's biggest killers," said Professor Tessa van der Merwe, who heads South Africa's first obesity clinic.

"We assume it is a US problem, but South Africans have been growing steadily larger over the last century. This is thanks to a confounding genetic predisposition towards energy conservation, the lack of our ability to sense fullness, and a decrease in the amount of energy we use in the workplace."

Van Heerden adds that urbanisation also contributes to obesity.

"When previously rural people move to cities, they tend to become less active and eat highly processed, fatty foods that make them gain weight."

How Body Mass Index works

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), overweight and obesity are defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that might impair health.

Body mass index (BMI) is a simple index of weight-for-height that is commonly used to classify overweight and obesity because it is the same for both sexes and for all ages of adults.

To work out your BMI you need to divide your weight in kg by your height in metres. For example, if you are 1,65m tall and weigh 85kg, you would use the following formula: weight/height squared = 85/1,65 x 1,65 = 85/2,72 = 31,25. So, your BMI is 31,25.

If your BMI is between 18 and 25 then your weight is normal.

If your BMI is between 25 and 30 you are overweight.

If your BMI is greater than 30 then you are obese. - Sapa