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800 million people around the world are affected by obesity. According to Riekie Smit, MD, South Africa has alarmingly high rates of adult obesity. More than half of the female population and over a quarter of the male population are obese. Up to 70% of the female population is either overweight or obese.

Adult obesity rates are out of control

South Africa is also rated in the top 3 countries in Africa in terms of adult obesity rates, with no signs of this abating. Even worse, childhood obesity rates are continuing to rise. According to Diabetes South Africa, 20% of girls younger than 9 years are overweight. Alarmingly 13.5% of school-going children are overweight or obese, which is higher than the 10% global rate.

How BMI is calculated

ban obesity | Longevity Live

Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more. Your BMI is calculated with a simple formula of your weight (kg) divided by your height (m) squared. BMI calculators are also easily accessible online.

This should not be the only guideline used, as your waist circumference is another really important measure of your risk for health problems. A high-risk waistline is over 80 cm for women or over 94 cm for men, and this indicates an increased risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and other conditions.

Diabetes, which is one of the conditions associated with obesity, is now the ‘largest killer’ of South African women, according to Statistics SA research.

Co-morbidities associated with obesity

What we have seen is that having type 2 diabetes also increases your risk of severe illness from COVID-19. In fact, adults of any age with certain underlying medical conditions are at increased risk for severe illness from the virus that causes COVID-19, including being overweight and obese.

The main reason for this is the comorbidities associated with obesity. I am often surprised at how many obese patients are not aware of the other medical conditions they already have.

Obesity, as well as its comorbid diseases, affects one’s immunity and your body’s ability to recover from illnesses. Obesity is associated with a depressed immune system and chronic low-grade inflammation in your body.

COVID-19 risk

In fact, researchers have established the likelihood that the presence of excess fat or adipose tissue could increase transmission of the virus between organs and could possibly increase the viral load and drive disease severity.

Obesity is associated with reduced cardiac and respiratory function, kidney pathology and all these and the other comorbid conditions gives rise to the poor outcome that many obese patients have when infected with COVID-19.2  Worse yet, obese people generally seem to respond poorly to vaccinations and antiviral treatments.

Furthermore, obesity increases your risk for numerous other health conditions, many of which can be fatal. Overall, obesity is estimated to increase the risk of dying from heart conditions by four times. It also doubles your risk of cancer-related death.

For persons with severe obesity (BMI >40), life expectancy is reduced by as much as 20 years in men and 5 years in women.

A disaster waiting to happen

Numerous scientific studies have revealed that most obesity-related medical conditions improve significantly with a weight loss of as little as 5% to 10% of your body weight.  This should really motivate anyone with health or weight problems. I advise people with weight issues to educate themselves and people close to them about how weight issues affect health.

This includes understanding why maintaining a healthy weight is important.

  • The importance of a healthy diet is
  • Learn more about nutrition and portion sizes
  • What you should be eating and what the benefits of exercise are
  • It is also important to know what assistance there is to help with weight loss, including possible weight loss programmes, medications, apps and what services are available to assist you.

obesity The lowdown

If you are worried about your weight,  speak to your doctor for advice about how to lose or manage your weight. Educate yourself and write down the steps.  Have a goal, and then start following the steps. You will also need help and advice from those with experience. If you are struggling with obesity issues, monitor your progress. If there is no progress,  get help, rather than give up.

About Dr. Riekie Smit

Dr. Riekie Smit

Dr Riekie Smit has a private practice in Pretoria, South Africa. She specializes in Sports and Aesthetic Medicine. She has a special interest in weight management with years of experience in practice. Dr. Smit is also the chairperson of the Aesthetic Medicine Congress of South Africa.  As well as the faculty coordinator for the Advanced Diploma in Aesthetic Medicine and EXCO of the Aesthetic and Anti-aging Medicine Society of South Africa. She is an international trainer in her field and has authored many medical articles in journals and scientific publications.

You can check your BMI and weight circumference and get access to professionally developed dietary guidelines which feature different meal plans to suit various lifestyle and energy requirements.


Guest Writer

This post has been curated by a Longevity Live editor for the website.

The content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.