Cape Town: South African women are dangerously overweight, with obesity among women having climbed from 27% of women in 2003 to 39% last year, a Human Science Research Council (HSRC) survey released on Tuesday revealed.
The 2012 SA National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey also found that 68% of women (and 20% of men) had a waist circumference that placed them at risk of metabolic complications such as diabetes, while the percent of children that are overweight had increased from 11% in 2005 to 18% last year.
The survey also found that about 28% of South African men and 45% of women are unfit, that one in five smoke and that over one in four women and one in five men have high cholesterol.
Commenting on the release of the survey, the Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi said the findings on non-communicable diseases backed many of the things that his department had been saying in recent years.
“It’s very serious, not only in terms of health but in terms of development of the economy,” he said.
He cautioned that if drastic steps are not taken in the coming years, no budget would be able to support the growth in non-communicable diseases – with 80% of non-communicable diseases found in middle-income countries.
The department’s non-communicable disease strategy would address some of these concerns, such as the smoking, alcohol and the high salt content in food.
For example, he said the department’s restrictions on salt in bread would save about 6 000 lives a year.
He said President Jacob Zuma had last week signed the health standards regulations into law, which would help to make food healthier.
The department, he said, was moving ahead with its plan to halt alcohol advertising. The regulations had been passed by an inter-ministerial commission and would come before Cabinet shortly.
The HSRC surveyed 8 168 households, which included 27 580 individuals and completed over 25 500 interviews, 12 000 physical examinations, with about 8 000 individuals providing blood samples.
Among its other findings related to non-communicable diseases, the survey revealed that:
Among children aged 10 to 14 years old, 7.5% of boys and 17% of girls are overweight, with 2.7% of boys and 5.6% of girls being obese.
Over half of all women and one in five men between 45 and 64-years-old are obese, while among women aged between 25 and 44, more than a third are obese and over a quarter overweight, with one in five men in the same group overweight and less than one in 10 obese.
One out of five people or 15% over the age of 44 have hypertension, with the overall rate for those older than 15 years at 10.2% – ranging between the Free State at 17.3% and Limpopo at 6.6%. Black Africans have lowest percentage, with Indians the highest at 45%.
The prevalence of clinical diabetes – peaks at 24% in the 55 to 64-year group.
One in five South Africans have a high fat and sugar intake – with the rate at nearly one in four people in formal urban areas.
A third of those living in the Western Cape are exposed to smoking inside the home and 31% in the Northern Cape – compared to 11% in the North West and 13% in Gauteng.
Nine percent of household members perceive alcohol misuse in the household as a serious problem, while a further eight percent see it as a serious problem.
Strikingly, the survey also revealed that only one in seven people consider what is contained in food before they consume it.
Among its recommendations, the HSRC said the Department of Health should strengthen its current non-communicable disease strategy and introduce policies that discourage or ban the promotion of foods known to be associated with increasing the risk of disease.
The HSRC added that the Food Based Dietary Guidelines initiative and other such guidelines in relation to physical activity should be used in any nutrition and fitness education programme.
Improving food security
The survey also looked at food security, and found that one out of four households experience hunger, with the Eastern Cape peaking at one in three households, and the Western Cape and Gauteng at a low of one in five.
About one in five children don’t eat breakfast in the morning – with 40% of these saying this was because there was no food in the home.
About 23% of South Africans have some form of anaemia, which has fallen from 29% in 2005, partly as a result of the country’s food fortification programme. Anaemia among children under five has fallen from 29% in 2005 to 11% in 2012.
However, stunting among children has increased between 2005 and 2012 – from 23% to 27%.
The survey also revealed that South Africans experience a high degree of trauma — with about 41% of South Africans showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), with 11% having been diagnosed with PTSD.
Seven percent of people reported a personal assault and 15% a family-related trauma.
On a more hopeful note, the survey also revealed that most South Africans were satisfied with how they were treated in public hospitals and clinics, with 80% of those in outpatient facilities and 85% of inpatient facilities reporting that they were treated respectively.
In comparison, 96% and 98% of those in private outpatient and inpatient facilities, respectively, reported that they were treated with respect.
However, only 60% of those in outpatient facilities reported that they were happy with waiting times in the public health system, compared to 88% in private facilities.