Stigma, inaction and cost: Will SA treat obesity with lessons learned from HIV?

  • About two-thirds of women and almost a third of men in South Africa are overweight or have obesity.
  • It’s a new public health threat, which, if not acted on now, will have serious consequences for the wellbeing of the country — similar to how the HIV epidemic of the late 1990s played out.
  • Obesity should not be a game of blame and shame; instead the country’s focus should be on both preventing and treating people.
  • Here are two things that can be done now.

South Africa should wake up. The country is facing a new public health threat — and as with the HIV epidemic of the late 1990s apathy will again be our downfall.
About two-thirds of women and almost a third of men in South Africa are overweight or have obesity, and with excess weight closely linked to someone developing a long-lasting health problem such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, certain cancers, liver and kidney disease, mental illness or a sleep disorder, it’s a killer that’s silently creeping up on us. In fact, diabetes is already the disease that causes the second most deaths after tuberculosis — and has been in this spot for almost a decade.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), being overweight or obese means someone carries too much fat around their bodies, to such a degree that it’s dangerous for their health. At the moment, body mass index (BMI) — a number that describes the ratio between your weight and height — is the most commonly used measure to check if you have a healthy body weight.

To get your BMI, you divide your weight (in kilograms) by your height (in metres) squared. For instance, if you weigh 74kg and your height is 1.63m, your BMI will be 28. A number above 25 signals overweight, and anything from 30 up means someone is obese.

Obesity is South Africa’s new HIV epidemic
PPREPP-SA Project  (in Gauteng and Western Cape)