Late December is traditionally the time when one starts to make resolutions to start eating healthily again after the food packed days that have come before.  Or perhaps we can put it off for just a few more days – early January perhaps?  In any case, according to the The Economist it is no longer just the Western world whose waistlines are widening.  Surprisingly, South Africa has become one of the world’s fattest countries, despite the poverty of so many of its citizens.  It reports:

Though 40% of its 50m people live off less than $2 a day, South Africa has become one of the world’s fattest countries. Six out of ten South Africans are now clinically overweight or obese, according to a recent survey by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), a pharmaceutical company. So, apparently, are a quarter of teenagers and one in six children under nine. Another study, by London’s Imperial College, found as many as three-quarters of South African women to be overweight, up from 57% in 1980…Men are only a shade trimmer, with 62% reckoned overweight.

It is the usual culprits causing the bulge – fast food, overly processed and sugary foods, television, and less physical work.  Though, in South Africa’s case, this surely also shows a shocking imbalance in the way food is distributed if 40% of the population are living on less than $2 a day – surely these people can’t manage to be obese?  Although, in saying that, it is sad that it is often the unhealthy food that is the most affordable for low income families.

This situation is worsened in South Africa because for many ‘big’ is regarded as ‘beautiful’.  I remember smiling reading the No. 1 Detectives Agency Series, of which the main protagonist is a black African woman who proudly describes herself as of ‘traditional build’, scorning the skinny women around her.  While you can quite rightly point the finger at the West for being obsessed with unhealthy ‘skinniness’ it seems that ‘big is beautiful’ is perhaps going a bit far in South Africa, if it is indeed one of the drivers of obesity, and may soon cause health problems.  The Economist further reports that last month President Jacob Zuma’s nephew, Khulubuse Zuma, a mining magnate not yet 40, said he could not testify at an insolvency hearing into one of his gold mines because he was too ill with a heart disease owing to his weight and lavish lifestyle.  Even more shockingly, in an Eastern Cape province, a nine-year-old pupil dropped dead at his primary school from a heart attack. He weighed around 115kg (a little over 250lb) and his heart could not cope any more. 

Needless to say, the South African government is starting to take the problem seriously, with campaigns to encourage healthier eating and to make sport compulsory in schools from January.  Hopefully such measures will return the traditionally sporty nation to good health.  As for the rest of us, we too should be careful in the holiday season not to over indulge too much – or at least return to moderation fairly soon!

Shannon Buckley

After practising law for the last four years, most recently as a junior barrister, Shannon Buckley has decided to complete the graduate diploma in secondary education this year to become...