January 10, 2023 in Obesity

Obesity in South Africa: A New Epidemic

Obesity In South Africa

Obesity in South Africa is a major health crisis.

Globally, in 2017, 4.7 million deaths were linked to obesity, making it the leading risk factor for premature death. If you are like most business owners, you are probably unaware of how skyrocketing rates of obesity in South Africa will affect your business.

A study conducted in 2017 concluded that overweight and obese people within your workforce will have a direct and catastrophic effect on productivity. The loss of productivity is due to high absenteeism and presenteeism amongst overweight and obese employees.

In this blog post, we provide some sobering obesity statistics and information about obesity in South Africa and why you should take a long hard look at the risk it poses to your organisation.

Prevalence of Obesity in South Africa

Half of all South African adults are either overweight at 23% or obese at 27%. If the current trend continues, 37% of adults will be obese by 2030, according to the World Obesity Federation.

Being overweight or obese dramatically increases your chance of developing non-communicable diseases that will leave your employees either severely ill, disabled or deceased. According to research, being overweight or obese is the leading cause of diabetes (95%) and arthritis (58%). Currently, 12 million people are receiving treatment from the public sector for diseases related to being overweight or obese, including diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, arthritis and cancer. This number does not include undiagnosed individuals or people with private healthcare.

Obesity In South Africa Crisis

Obesity in South Africa: The Cost to Our Economy

A study in 2020 at the University of Witwatersrand found that the total cost of obesity and overweight individuals cost the SA economy a staggering R33 billion in 2020. Obesity accounts for a massive 15.38% of government expenditure!

The study goes on to report the following sobering statistics about the cost of obesity and associated chronic diseases:

  • The annual average cost of obesity costs between R30 billion and 36 billion
  • An overweight or obese person costs the economy approximately R2,769 per year
  • Diabetes exceeds R19,86 billion
  • Cardiovascular diseases cost R8,87 billion
  • Cancers cost the economy R352 million per year
  • Digestive diseases rob the economy of R395 million
  • Respiratory diseases total R360 million annually
  • Musculoskeletal disorders R3,353 million

This study has shown that being overweight or obese creates a significant financial strain on South Africa’s public healthcare system. Statistics South Africa estimates that approximately 71% of South Africans do not have private healthcare leaving them with little choice but to lean on government-funded public healthcare. 

Now that you can see the cost of obesity in South Africa,  how many of your employees aren’t receiving proper support or treatment from the public health sector? How many of them are at risk of life-threatening chronic diseases caused by the obesity epidemic?

What is Obesity?

Obesity happens when someone takes in more calories than they burn through exercise and daily activities. People are considered obese if their body mass index is 30 or higher. Excessive body fat is the main symptom of obesity, which can lead to severe health problems.

The BMI index in South Africa calculates your employees’ BMI by taking their weight in kilograms and dividing it by their height in metres squared. The average BMI in South Africa is 27.3! 

The BMI index in South Africa below demonstrates the various thresholds for  adults over the age of 20:

  • Underweight: Below 18.5
  • Healthy Weight: 18.5 – 24.9
  • Overweight: 25.0 – 29.9
  • Obesity: 30.0 and above
  • Morbid Obesity: 40.0 and over

HealthImpact offers occupational health and wellness services that can assist with assessing your workforce while helping you mitigate the risk that obesity and chronic illnesses pose to your bottom line.

Obesity in South Africa Measurements

What Causes Obesity in South Africa?

Obesity in South Africa has increased exponentially over the last decade leading to high death and disability rates fuelled by chronic diseases. But what causes obesity?

The causes of obesity are complex and multi-faceted but can be broken down into three leading causes.

  1. The first cause of obesity is an energy imbalance, which means that people are taking in more calories than they are burning through physical activity. This is often the result of a sedentary lifestyle, poor diet or both.
  1. The second cause of obesity is genetics. Obesity tends to run in families, so if your employees have obesity in their family history, they are more likely to be obese as well.
  1. The third cause of obesity is medical conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), Cushing’s syndrome, and hypothyroidism. These conditions can lead to weight gain and make it difficult to lose weight.

Whatever the cause may be, you need to take action today to help your employees make better lifestyle choices before obesity-related problems take a toll on your business.

Obesity in South: A Threat to Your Business

Obesity can lead to numerous chronic illnesses, which will cause high absenteeism rates, decreased productivity, presenteeism, disability and premature death. You need to consider the ramifications of ignoring the health and well-being of your employees and executives.

Financial loss

Obesity will lead to massive financial losses for your company as you struggle to compensate for lost work time brought on by high absenteeism and presenteeism. On top of that, an increase in chronic diseases due to obesity will drastically increase your healthcare costs.

Loss of key executives

Besides the cost of lost productivity, have you considered that obesity places your key executives at risk of premature death? The Heart Foundation of South Africa reports that 60 people die from a stroke and 33 from a heart attack every single day in South Africa! Can you afford to risk your share price if your CEO dies suddenly from a heart attack, or have you considered the recruitment costs associated with replacing your key executives?

Increased occupational injuries

A study looked at the link between obesity  and non-fatal traumatic injuries in the workplace and found that obesity also makes workers more susceptible to injuries on the job due to the following:

  • Gait and mobility impairments
  • Fatigue associated with sleep apnea
  • Ergonomic issues
  • The use of medications that cause drowsiness to treat diseases related to obesity

These factors can also lead to increased insurance premiums, and potential legal disputes as the rate of workplace injuries increase due to obesity in South Africa.

Business owners should stay aware of the impact of obesity on their executives and employees and prioritise preventative measures. Failing to address this pressing issue could have severe consequences for the success and longevity of your business.

Obesity in South Africa Chronic Diseases

How to Solve the Obesity Epidemic

In order to solve the obesity epidemic in South Africa, research suggests that businesses take urgent action to help prevent obesity through swift intervention.

Healthcare programs within your business can help in the following ways:

  • Educate your workforce about the risk obesity poses to their health
  • Explain the chronic diseases associated with being overweight or obese
  • Calculate each employee’s BMI and risk of associated chronic diseases
  • Test employees of chronic illnesses and provide treatment
  • Help educate employees on how to lead a healthier lifestyle in order to prevent obesity and related chronic illnesses

By taking action today to reduce the prevalence of obesity in South Africa, you can mitigate the risks posed to your business by obesity and its associated chronic diseases.

Obesity in South Africa: How HealthImpact Can Help

HealthImpact offers comprehensive executive wellness programs and occupational health and wellness services that are designed to help you mitigate the risk that poor employee health poses to your business.

We will create a tailor-made health and wellness strategy designed to meet your organisation’s unique requirements. HealthImpact offers programs to promote executive health and wellness to help mitigate the risk obesity and chronic illnesses pose to your executive team.

Our offerings include mobile clinics that can travel to you anywhere in South Africa and provide primary healthcare to your workforce. We will test, treat and manage chronic diseases within your workforce and provide valuable yet confidential analytics so you can assess your business’s risk factors.

Do your part to reduce obesity in South Africa now before it eats into your bottom line! Contact HealthImpact today!

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