Article Source: guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2010
It is renowned for surfing, rugby and the great outdoors, but South Africa is among the fattest countries in the world, a survey has found.
The rainbow nation is "eating itself slowly to death", according to the drug and healthcare company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), which says 61% of South Africans are overweight, obese or morbidly obese.
Despite the country's sporty reputation and the prevalence of gyms in cities such as Johannesburg, the research found that 49% of South Africans do not exercise and 71% have never dieted. Most worryingly, 17% of children under nine are overweight.
Jonathan Girling, GSK vice-president for consumer healthcare, said its findings dispelled the notion that obesity is a purely western phenomenon.
"I think there are clearly lots of factors that are associated with this major trend -- for the nation to essentially be eating itself slowly to death -- like lifestyle changes," Girling said.
The national health survey was conducted on behalf of GSK by marketing consultancy Added Value. A sample of 500 respondents, representing about 80% of South Africans from all classes and races, was selected for face-to-face interviews.
Girling said: "What we have found is that obesity is not more prevalent in the lower social class than the upper so it's certainly not a middle class issue. It's an issue facing all of South Africa."
The survey also found a gap between perception and reality: 78% of obese people and 52% of morbidly obese people regard themselves as somewhat healthy or very healthy. Some 42% have no health concerns and only 47% recognise that exercise and physical fitness are critical.
Meanwhile, 74% of South Africans think their fellow citizens are overweight and only 34% consider themselves as overweight or obese.
"People are in denial and don't realise how overweight they are," said Girling.
"Unbelievably, when they are overweight they consider themselves as healthy."
Lifestyle, food, poverty and demographics are important factors. People in Cape Town are the worst affected with 72% overweight, closely followed by residents of Pretoria (68%), Johannesburg (59%) and Durban (52%).
A total of 65% of people interviewed thought healthy food was more expensive than unhealthy food. Despite this, they thought the food they bought was healthy and claimed to shop for healthy food 52% of the time.
Of those surveyed, 47% said the government should play a more active role in targeting obesity and 46% felt obesity would affect South Africa economically.