Obesity: Is your waistline killing you? | Western Cape Government

Obesity: Is your waistline killing you?

Obesity stats in South Africa are concerning as roughly 31% of men and 68% of women in the country are obese. Being overweight or obese can lead to a range of lifestyle diseases, including diabetes and heart disease.

This is a big problem, not only in adults but also in children, with more than 13% of South African children between the ages of 6-14 years considered overweight or obese. As a parent, you can reduce the risk of obesity in your children by making sure your family becomes more physically active and that nutritious meals make up the bulk of your household's diet. You can also ensure that your children eat healthy meals at school.

Driving the numbers home even more, is Stats SA's findings that show 62.2% women and 25.1% men in the Western Cape to be overweight or obese. While the figures are alarming it indicates that obesity is not seen for the serious health risk factor that it is. Julia Goedecke, a senior specialist for the Medical Research Council of South Africa said that many do not understand the health consequences of being overweight. "People don’t understand it; they see it as more of an aesthetic problem than a health problem".

What is obesity? A young female doctor measuring waist of overweight woman with centimeter in clinic

Obesity is defined as being overweight or as having too much body fat – especially in your waist area. A high-risk waistline is 80cm or higher for women and 94cm or higher for men. Once your waistline goes above these levels, it increases your risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. If you area uncertain about your waist circumference measurement, you can have yours checked at a health clinic near you.

The healthy body mass index (BMI) is also an indicator you can use to determine whether your weight is in an unhealthy range, and needs to be tended to. Per the BMI chart, a healthy weight range is between 18.5 – 24.9, while overweight people score 25 to 29.9 and obese people score 30 or higher.

How to calculate your BMI.

Calculate BMI by dividing weight in kilograms by height in centimetres TWICE.

For example: 90 kg / 180 cm = 50 and then you divide the answer by your height  50 / 180cm = 27.8

  BMI (kg/m²) Waist circumference Approx. pants size
Underweight  <18.5    
Normal  18.5 - 24.9  Men ≤ 94 cm/ Women  ≤ 80 cm Men ≤ 36/ Women  ≤ 40 (US 14)
Overweight  25 - 29.9 Men > 94 - 102 cm/ Women  > 80 - 88 cm Men ≥ 38/ Women  ≥ 42 (US 16)
Obesity  >30.0 Men > 102 cm/ Women  > 88 cm Men ≥ 42/ Women ≥ 44 (US18)

Why obesity matters

Being overweight can increase your risk of having the following health problems:

  • Heart disease - extra weight puts strain on the heart.
  • High cholesterol levels, which can increase the danger of heart attack and stroke.
  • Diabetes.
  • Certain cancers.
  • Gallstones.
  • Sleep apnoea.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Arthritis.
  • Psychological problems (obese people may feel very insecure about their weight).

What causes obesity?

There are several factors that cause obesity:

  • Poor eating habits - such as takeaways and animal fats.
  • Lack of exercise.
  • Family history - if parents are overweight, children often follow the pattern.
  • Pregnancy - the more pregnancies a woman has, the more likely she is to put on weight.
  • Negative emotions, which can cause some people to eat as a comfort mechanism.

How do I fight obesity? Woman exercising outdoors with water background

The following lifestyle changes are recommended for losing unwanted weight:

  • Exercise regularly.
  • Increase your intake of fibre, which makes your stomach feel fuller for longer.
  • Eat at least five portions of vegetables and fruit daily.
  • Use healthier cooking methods such as steaming, boiling and grilling.
  • Eat smaller portions.
  • Limit your salt intake, because salt makes your body retain water.
  • Drink between six to eight glasses of water a day.

Get more information on healthy weight loss on the Heart and Stroke Foundation website

The content on this page was last updated on 6 December 2022