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The elephant in the tweet: SA talk show host gets obesity stat wrong

This article is more than 6 years old

Shock jock Gareth Cliff recently took aim at South African women, branding them the “fattest women in the world”.

The talk show host’s tweet - which included an elephant emoji - has been shared over 500 times and liked by over 700 people.

When Africa Check asked for the source of the information, Cliff’s online radio station responded with a link to a news story. The headline read: “SA women top obesity ladder in Sub-Sahara” [sic]. (You can probably guess where this fact-check is going...)

The news story reported on the findings of a global study conducted on the prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adults between 1980 and 2013. It was conducted  by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, a research institute based at the University of Washington.

Obesity measured with BMI

A person’s Body Mass Index (BMI) is used to determine whether they are overweight or obese. It is a calculation that takes into account how much a person weighs in relation to their height.

When BMI is greater than or equal to 25, a person is classified as overweight. Someone is considered obese if the number reaches 30 or more.

What's your BMI?

A woman who is 160 cm tall is considered obese if she weighs over 77 kg. A man who is 180 cm tall is considered obese if he weighs over 98 kg. You can calculate your BMI here.

SA women not ‘fattest’ in the world

The study found that 42% of South African women were obese in 2013 - the highest in sub-Saharan Africa. In comparison, just 13.5% of South African men were obese.

South Africa women were not the most obese in the world, as Cliff tweeted, but they still featured high on the list, being in 16th place.

Samoan women topped the rankings, with 69% having a BMI of 30 or higher.

Moved up the ranking in 2015

New data for 2015 from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation shows that South African women have moved up the rankings - but not high enough to support Cliff’s claim.

The new estimate of 45% of South African women being obese put the country in 7th position. - Kate Wilkinson (22/11/2017)

Countries with the highest percentage of obese women (2015)
CountryBMI ≥ 30
American Samoa68%
South Africa45%
Puerto Rico44%
Marshall Islands44%

Source: Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation


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