Personally I would estimate that a far higher percentage of South Africans are overweight and as time passes I am noticing an alarming amount of young children who are becoming obese.
Sure, we have always had some “fatty” children running around but I am not talking about just slightly overweight kids, I am talking about children who are sometimes pre-school and who are morbidly obese.
What is causing the trend in obesity?
While there are a million factors contributing to obesity in S.A and the rest of the world there are some factors that are easier to control than others.
1) Fast Foods –
It is a well known fact that wherever the popular American fast food outlets appear in the world then obesity seems to follow. These fast food chains have popularised unhealthy eating and have provided a simple solution to the housewives problem of providing food to the family.
Children are a major part of the new trend towards fast foods and as a result the unscrupulous marketing of these unhealthy foods is often targetted at children. Where the children wish to go the parents follow. Kiddie meals supplemented with a “cool” toy that every kid must collect ensures that these families return on a regular basis.
Dr Van Der Merwe has gone as far as to suggest that the government should impose a tax on unhealthy fast foods similar to the “Sin Tax” imposed on cigarettes and alcohol.
2) Soft Drinks –
Water has become so uncool! Why drink water or some other healthy beverage when you can drink a refreshing sugar laden soft drink. Of course these high sugar refreshments are often supplemented with caffeine so as to cause the user to return regularly for a top up of caffeine.
One 500ml popular brand soft drink was found to contain almost half of the recommended daily allowance of calories. Walking around popular supermarkets and observing the trolleys of shoppers all containing multiple 2 litre bottles of soft drinks indicate just how badly South Africans have become hooked on Soft Drinks.
The new “Sugar Tax” that is due to come into force in 2017 is mainly targeted at increasing sugar prices to try and reduce sugar usage by an overweight nation.
3) Lack of exercise –
Although I commonly state that you do not need a major exercise program to lose weight, you do need some sort of exercise, such as walking, in order to burn off calories.
South Africa is plagued by a very high crime rate and as a result in many circumstances it is no longer safe to walk around. Suitable public transport is a problem that further aggravates the situation.
Children are collected directly from school. It is often preferred that they rather safely watch T.V or play computer games instead of running around outdoors with friends. Adults often have private cars and drive directly to where they wish to go. There is no excess walking such as encountered when using a public transport system.
In short most South Africans very seldom partake in any form of day to day exercise and this is a major contributor to the overweight state of the nation.
The fight against obesity will involve a massive change of lifestyle in South Africa which could well be nearly impossible to achieve. Taxes imposed upon fast food outlets and other accompanying legislation which forces fast food outlets to indicate calorie content of meals provided, may help to control the problem slightly but it is still merely a pin-prick in the ocean.
Legislation to control the sale of popular soft drinks will never happen as these companies provide valuable tax revenue to the government. The streets are unsafe and there is no adequate public transport system available and as a result most familes will continue to lack adequate daily exercise.
Unfortunately is does seem that obesity problem in South Africa is going to continue to grow out of control as it has done in countries such as the USA.