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We need to talk about obesity in South Africa

The theme for this year’s World Obesity Day is ‘Changing Perspectives: Let’s Talk About Obesity‘. Obesity in South Africa is a big issue, and one we should all be discussing more.

What is obesity?

Obesity is defined by the World Health Organisation as ‘abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health’. It is most commonly measured by BMI, though
there are other methods such as waist and height ratios that are taken with BMI and can be more accurate.

People living with obesity are at a greater risk from other chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. Obesity is also a risk factor for complications of COVID-19, says WHO.

Let’s talk about obesity in South Africa

Obesity can be many different things, and there is no single way to address it. We all need to understand the complex roots of obesity, so we can take the action that works for our countries, our communities, and our own bodies.

Overeating doesn’t cause obesity, obesity as a disease causes overeating.

It is caused by a variety of factors, including biology, mental health, genetic risk, environment, healthcare access, and access to ultra-processed food. It is not due to lack of willpower.

Learn more about the roots of obesity:

Did you know?

Obesity is seen as a lifestyle disease – it’s not. Obesity is often driven by forces outside of a person’s control. Biological and genetic factors put some of us at greater risk. Our physical and social environments impact on our ability to live healthy lives and expose us to unhealthy foods that are engineered to make us eat more. Obesity is therefore the result of complex biological, genetic and environmental factors. Find out more at

Lets talk about obesity: start a conversation

To make talking about obesity easy for everyone, WOD has created “Let’s Talk About Obesity: It’s on the Cards“. These conversation cards provide talking points to get your discussion started.

Simply click to download cards and let’s get talking!

What to read next?

South African obesity statistics: The South African obesity statistics are terrifying. Half of South African adults are overweight or obese. What that means is increased risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and premature death.

#DiabetesLooksLikeMe 2023: It’s time for #DiabetesLooksLikeMe 2023! Once a year, on the 1st March, South Africans unite to show what diabetes looks like. Join the #DiabetesLooksLikeMe movement

How to make better food choices: advice from a dietician: How to make better food choices is one of the hardest things when you’re living with diabetes. We chatted to Thapelo Serumula from Dietitians24 based in Polokwane, Limpopo.

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Sweet Life is a registered NPO/PBO (220-984) with a single goal: to improve diabetes in South Africa. We are funded by sponsorships and donations from aligned companies and organisations who believe in our work. We only share information that we believe benefits our community. While some of this information is linked to specific brands, it is not an official endorsement of that brand. We believe in empowering people with diabetes to make the best decisions they can, to live a healthy, happy life with diabetes.