Having a normal, healthy weight is one of the best things you can do to protect your overall health. Being overweight or obese increases your risk for having a heart attack or stroke as well as numerous other health problems including high blood pressure, certain cancers, diabetes, gallstones, sleep apnoea and degenerative joint disease. Being overweight is a condition of abnormal or excessive fat in the body to the extent that it may have a negative effect on your health. It is the result of an energy imbalance where energy intake (through eating and drinking) has been greater than the energy use (from being active) over a period of many years. Obesity is rarely caused by a slow metabolism or hormonal problems. Making too many poor food choices and a lack of exercise are not the only causes of this imbalance. Other factors have also been associated with obesity:
    • Family history of obesity.
The more pregnancies a woman has had, the more likely she is to be overweight. In South Africa, low-income groups tend to be less overweight, except in communities where obesity is culturally regarded as attractive. Alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking and negative emotions such as depression, have been found to induce obesity.

SHOCKING STATISTICS

  • Two out of three (68%) women and just under one third of men (31%) in South Africa are overweight or obese.
  • 41% of women are obese compared to 11% of men.
  • One in five women (20%) and only 3% of men are severely obese (BMI ≥ 35 kg/m2).
  • Almost 1 in 4 (22.9%) children aged 2-14 years are overweight or obese in South Africa. These children have an increased risk of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease earlier in life and are more likely to remain obese throughout their adult life.

WHAT ARE THE DANGERS OF BEING OVERWEIGHT?

Being overweight is a condition of abnormal or excessive fat in the body to the extent that it may have a negative effect on your health. Being overweight is the result of an energy imbalance where energy intake has been greater than the energy used over a period of many years. Obesity is rarely caused by a slow metabolism or hormonal problems. An excess of the wrong food and a lack of exercise are not the only causes of this imbalance. Other factors have also been associated with obesity:
  • Family history of obesity
  • The more pregnancies a woman has had, the more likely she is to be overweight
  • Alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking and negative emotions, such as depression, have been found to induce obesity
The dangers of being overweight:
  • Being overweight can increase the risk of developing:
    • Heart disease (extra weight puts more strain on the heart)
    • Diabetes
    • High blood pressure (the risk is 2-6 times higher in overweight than healthy weight individuals)
    • Certain cancers, arthritis, shortness of breath, gallstones, slower healing and increased
    • susceptibility to infections
    • Psychological problems - feeling insecure, depression

HOW DO YOU KNO IF YOUR WEIGHT IS TOO HIGH?

Body Mass Index By calculating the Body Mass Index (BMI), you can tell whether your weight is normal, too low or too high for your height.
BMI weight in kg (height in metres)
Classification BMI (kg/m2)
Normal (healthy) 18.5 – 24.9
Normal (healthy) 18.5 – 24.9
Overweight 25 – 29.9
Obese ≥ 30
These cut-off points are not absolute and people with high muscle mass such as professional athletes and body builders may have a high BMI without being overweight. That’s why it is important to use BMI in conjunction with waist circumference, and if possible, also body fat %. Click here to calculate your BMI.

Waist circumference

Where your weight is accumulated, matters! That’s because the type of fat that accumulates around the abdomen, differs to fat in the rest of the body. This fat is called visceral fat, and is very metabolically active. In other words, it releases substances which can increase cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure and blood glucose, all of which in turn increase your risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Are you an apple or a pear body shape? An apple-shaped body is where the weight is mostly found around the abdomen, and a pear-shaped body is where the weight is mostly on the hips and thighs. Weight around the abdomen increases the risk for cardiovascular disease more than weight around the hips and thighs. That is why a waist measurement can be a good indicator of your health risk. You can check whether your waist measurement falls into the ideal category or whether you are putting yourself at risk by checking the table below: Women
Waist circumference   Interpretation
Less than 80 cm Ideal
80 – 87 cm Increased risk for CVD
88 cm or more High risk for CVD
Men
Waist circumference   Interpretation
Less than 94 cm Ideal
94 – 101 cm Increased risk for CVD
102 cm or more High risk for CVD

How to measure your waist:

  • You will need a measuring tape.
  • Clear your abdominal area of any clothing, belts or accessories. Stand upright facing a mirror with your feet shoulder-width apart and your stomach relaxed. Wrap the measuring tape around your waist.
  • To find the correct place to measure, place the tape measure around the smallest part of your natural waist (the point of narrowing/over your belly button). Make sure the tape is parallel to the floor and is not twisted.
  • Relax and take two normal breaths. After the second breath out, tighten the tape around your waist. The tape should fit comfortably snug around the waist without depressing the skin. Remember to keep your stomach relaxed at this point.
  • Still breathing normally, take the reading on the tape.
If you don’t have a tape measure, your clothes size can also indicate if you are at risk. See this table below: Women
Waist circumference   Interpretation
Ideal waist circumference Less than 80 cm
Ideal pants size Approx. size 38 (14) or less
Men
Waist circumference   Interpretation
Ideal waist circumference Less than 94 cm
Ideal pants size Approx. size 36 (12) or less

ADVICE FOR WEIGHT MANAGEMENT

Gradual weight loss of 0.5 – 1 kg per week is the safest and most effective long-term way to lose weight. There are many unhealthy ‘fad’ weight loss diets out there which generally involve "magic" cures, are normally expensive, require you to purchase pills or potions and often provide rapid weight loss with only short-term results. Be aware of these diets and don’t be fooled by them. A healthy, consistent lifestyle is a much better approach that can become a habit and sustained long-term. The combination of exercise and healthy eating is the most effective long-term approach to successful weight management.

Tips for weight loss

Set a reasonable and realistic goal. Set short-term, specific goals which seem more achievable and will help you to gradually achieve your overall long-term goal. Eat 3 balanced meals a day. Plate meals according to the plate model: ¼ protein, ¼ starch and ½ vegetables and fruit on your plate Choose healthy snacks. If still hungry in-between meals then have small healthy snacks such as fruit, veggie sticks, raw unsalted nuts or low-fat dairy instead of sweets, chips and chocolates. Control portion sizes. Use smaller plates and bowls and serve smaller portions. <p5. Reduce overall fat intake.
  • Choose low-fat or fat -free dairy
  • Choose lean meat, skinless chicken, fish or legumes
  • Use low fat cooking methods such as stir-frying, grilling, baking, steaming or boiling instead of deep frying
  • Avoid adding unnecessary oils, sauces, cheese and cream to your food.
  • Avoid oily takeaways and street foods such as vetkoek, gatsbies, pies, fried chicken and chips.
Choose wholegrain starchy foods. They are high in fibre and will help keep you feeling fuller for longer. Examples are whole-wheat bread, oats, whole-wheat pasta and high fibre cereals. Avoid all sugary drinks. They provide empty-kilojoules and contribute to weight gain. Drink 8 glasses of fresh water instead. Get active. Increasing physical activity is an essential part of sustained weight loss. Aim for at least 30 minutes of activity five times a week, and gradually increase this up to 60 minutes. 9. Get support.
  • Ask you friends and family to help you on this journey by making it easy to make the right choices
  • Many people benefit from group weight-loss programs such as Eat for Life and Weight Watchers.
  • Contact a dietitian for a full assessment, personalised nutritional advice and meal plans
For more advice, contact the Heart and Stroke Health Line. Call 021 422 1586 or email heart@heartfoundation.co.za.