Fight obesity in South Africa a step at a time

Fight obesity in South Africa a step at a time

The impact of obesity on individual health, globally, is significant. Good nutrition and regular physical activity are simple but immensely effective lifestyle changes that will set you on a road towards better health. 

walking obesity istock

Did you know that 4.5 million people die each year as a result of being overweight or obese? This is more than the worldwide deaths linked to being underweight. There are a number of health concerns linked to obesity, including: 

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke)
  • Certain cancers (breast and colon)
  • Reproductive health issues (infertility and higher risk of miscarriage)
  • Increased strain on bones, muscles and joints
  • Emotional distress and depression
  • Low quality of life
  • Respiratory problems (sleep apnoea and asthma) 

How much obesity is costing the country 

In addition to health concerns, obesity impacts the global economy. A whopping R16.4 trillion is lost each year – roughly equivalent to the global impact from smoking or armed violence, war and terrorism. According to the Discovery Vitality ObeCity Index 2017, the economic impact of obesity in South Africa is R701 billion each year.

Costs to the economy linked to obesity include:

  • Decreased productivity – costing South Africa around R109 billion each year
  • Increased absenteeism – costing South Africa around R47 billion each year
  • Increased medical spend – out-of-pocket healthcare costs of R124 billion each year globally
  • Slowed career growth – globally, overweight women are predicted to earn 11% less than women of healthy weight
  • Everyday expenses – costing an extra R31 billion globally linked to fuel, electricity and other expenses by obese people 

While there is no doubt that obesity is one of the biggest drivers of preventable chronic diseases and healthcare costs, a few simple changes in your lifestyle can make a world of difference. And the first step can literally be – a step!

Walk your way to better health

 If you’d like to become more fit and active, but don’t know where to start – a walk is a great first step. Here are some ways you can ease your way into a habit of regular physical activity.

1. Take advantage of everyday opportunities to move more 

Be it parking at the end of a lot so you walk a bit further to the shop entrance; taking the stairs instead of the lift or escalator; using a bathroom at work located on another floor so you walk further to it; or even doing more ordinary household chores like sweeping or mowing the lawn; whatever tasks you complete in a day, make a point of incorporating more movement into your day.

2. Start slow and up your steps over time 

Start a small daily habit of walking, like a stroll around the block once with a friend, your child or pet. The route you choose can make a huge difference when it comes to keeping your mind engaged. Enjoy the scenery and the chance to spend a little quality time alone or with someone. Slowly increase your distance or pace as you feel comfortable. Then challenge yourself with this beginner’s guide to conquering a 5km

3. Walk or jog with a group

Joining (or starting) a walking group can be really fun and help keep you accountable. Training together taps into both our human desire for approval and our capacity to influence others, states behavioural research. A group can help to take your mind off the pace, the inclines, and the distance – and by doing so, challenge you to walk or jog better, faster, and stronger. 

4. Sign up for an event

Having an achievable (but still challenging) goal can give you the drive and focus you need to stick to a habit. Enter a race or event that will happen in the middle or end of winter to motivate you to keep up your physical activity. Need inspiration? Try out the weekly parkruns to keep the family in practice! 

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