Based on the most recent epidemiological data, the webinar provided an overview of the current status and trends of the obesity epidemic in South Africa, discussed potential effects on population health and health system burden. According to the WHO definition, obesity is defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that may impair health. From a public health and clinical perspective, the problem with obesity is not so much people’s lifestyle choices, but more the host of debilitating medical conditions that occur to excess fat. 

South African obesity data found that, in both sexes, BMI and WC increased significantly between 1998 and 2017.

After broadly classifying South Africans into either underweight (BMI < 18.5), normal (BMI between 18.5 and 25), overweight (between 25 and 30) and obese (BMI > 30), and using accumulated waist circumference (WC) data, several alarming results were uncovered.

  • In both sexes, BMI and WC increased significantly between 1998 and 2017.
  • The increase was higher among women; and
  • Increases in WC were not completely explained by increases in BMI.

In women, average weight increased from 67.7kg in 1998 to 72.6kg in 2017. In men the average weight increased from 65.5kg to 69.3kg during the same time period. There was an estimated 2.6cm increase in WC per decade among women, and a 2cm increase in men. If one looks only at the BMI definitions of obesity, the percentage of women who could be classified as obese increased from 29.5% in 1998 to a whopping 39.2% in 2017.