Fighting the Growing Obesity Epidemic in South Africa


By: Modupe Adeniyi. Freelance Health Reporter

Africa map showing South Africa

Map of Africa showing South Africa



South Africa has a high and alarming burden of obesity among children and women, and the country’s Heart and Stroke Foundation is campaigning to reduce the obesity rate by raising awareness and promoting healthy lifestyle choices.



March 8, 2024. South Africa has a growing obesity rate, exacerbated by the increasing prevalence of childhood obesity and 65% of women being classified as overweight. These worrying findings were put in the spotlight when observing World Obesity Day on Monday, 4 March.


In reaction to this, the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA) is championing a campaign to reduce obesity, raise awareness and encourage healthy lifestyle choices which ties in with campaigns of the World Obesity Federation.


Prof. Pamela Naidoo, chief executive officer of the HSFSA, emphasized the importance of a strong and impactful campaign to fight obesity as one of the prevention measures to protect young children and future generations.


Kinza Hussain, the foundation's dietitian, in turn pointed out the significance of the first step in addressing the dire situation South Africa is in: "Acknowledge the intergenerational cycle of obesity" campaign.


"A multifaceted approach is required to reduce the obesity burden. We need to target families, infants and children to initiate and promote healthy behaviors. Adolescents are also a special group where health behavioural messages should be promoted," said Hussain.


"Most important are pregnant women, who need to optimize their nutritional intake, monitor weight gain and prevent gestational diabetes."


"The postpartum period needs to be monitored to promote a return to healthy pre-pregnancy weight, in which the facilitation of long-term breastfeeding plays a role."


Hussain further said that it had been well established that obesity entailed a strong genetic component.


"Individuals who have obese parents are more likely to be obese themselves. Of course, it is also important to monitor the intersection between environmental and genetic factors. In recent years, attention has shifted to maternal obesity and how obesity has the potential to develop in utero," said Hussain.


"Emerging evidence highlights the impact that maternal obesity has on the fetus and this provides not one, but multiple windows of opportunity to mitigate the growing concern of obesity," Hussain added.


Stating that studies had illustrated that foetal exposure to maternal obesity was linked to a higher prevalence of stillbirth and congenital defects, Hussain concluded that "there is an increased risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) later in life, including childhood obesity and cardiovascular diseases," 


Published: March 8, 2024

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