The sudden rise of obesity rates in South African children means that more and more kids are developing life-threatening chronic diseases
It’s shocking how many children in South Africa are dangerously overweight. And no, we’re not taking about cute puppy fat, we’re talking about obesity.
A recent report published in the New England Medical Journal (NEMJ) reveals that 1,6 million South African children are considered obese.
According to the same report, 10 million adults are obsese and South Africa has the highest obesity rates for women in Africa.
The study, which measured overweight and obesity trends between 1990 and 2015 in close to 200 countries, found that 107 million children are living with obesity globally.
While this figure is lower than that which was seen among adults (603 million), children and teenagers are gaining weight at a much faster rate.
Obesity robs children of their ability to fully enjoy their youth as more and more develop life-threatening chronic diseases, like type-2 diabetes.
The escalating weight of youth puts them at greater risk of developing other non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like those related to the cardiovascular and renal system as well as several cancers later in life. These complicated, life-altering and costly health issues require quick and long-lasting interventions.
Why are children gaining so much weight?
A closer look at children’s diets reveals that a significant proportion of many children’s daily calorie intake comes from sugary drinks, like sodas and sweetened fruits juices.
“Kids need protection from these toxic products more than anybody else and we call on our leadership to endorse a strong tax because we cannot afford to wait as our children get sicker and their lives get shorter,” says HEALA coordinator Ms Tracey Malawana.
According to PRICELESS SA, a 20 per cent sugary drinks tax is needed to facilitate much-needed daily dietary adjustments to reduce sugar consumption as it has been modelled to result in 220 000 fewer obese South Africans.
Proof that this policy lever can be effective has also been established in a study conducted among households of lower socio-economic status in Mexico which showed a decline in sugary drinks consumption two years after a tax was implemented.
Earlier this year, the Ministry of Finance announced the introduction of an 11 per cent sugary drinks tax and since then the matter has been debated at various parliamentary hearings.
“A sugary drinks tax, combined with initiatives to promote healthier lifestyles by changing how we shop and eat, is our best shot at keeping our youth free of disease so they can contribute productively to society in their lifetime,” concludes Ms Malawana.