Are 81.3% of South African women overweight or obese?

A woman works out at new outdoor gym in Soweto in March 2012. Photo: AFP/ALEXANDER JOE
A woman works out at new outdoor gym in Soweto in March 2012. Photo: AFP/ALEXANDER JOE

South Africans’ unhealthy habits lead to chronic diseases that place a huge burden on the country’s health budget. The Democratic Alliance’s shadow health minister argued this in parliament Tuesday at the health department’s budget vote.

Wilmot James said in his speech: “We eat fast-foods and drink sugary beverages at a rate that make us the most obese people in Africa well on the road to already alarming levels of diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. 25.8% of boys and 52.3% of men are obese or overweight. 35.9% of girls and 81.3% of women likewise.” (Note: James rounded the statistics to the nearest integer when he read the speech.)

As Africa Check has reported previously, South Africa may not be the most obese nation on the continent but is certainly a heavyweight contender.

Asked on Twitter for the source of his claim, James said it was a “30 year long study of obesity trends published in the Lancet”.

However, it seems that James had used the statistics incorrectly. Usually, overweight and obesity are reportedly separately but in this study, it was combined.

How overweight & obesity are measured

Overweight. Someone is considered overweight when she has a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or above, but lower than 30. A women 1.65 m tall and weighing 68 kg has a BMI of 25.

Obese. Someone is considered obese when he has a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. A man 1.75 m tall and weighing 92 kg has a BMI of 30.

Source: Body Mass Index calculator

The Lancet’s study showed that in 2013, 69.3% of South African women were overweight or obese, not 81.3% as James said. His other figures were also incorrect:

Group % overweight or obese (2013)
Boys 18.8%
Men 38.8%
Girls 26.3%
Women 69.3%

– 12/05/2016


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