In any case, the guys that separate fact from fiction, non-profit website Africa Check tried to make sense of a few newspaper headlines such as “SA is fattest nation in sub-Saharan Africa” in Business Day, the Port Elizabeth Herald’s “One in three South Africans now deemed obese” and The Times’ “SA pigs out in fat ranking”.
The newspapers were quoting the CEO of South African medical aid company Profmed, Graham Anderson. According to Business Day online, he said: “One in three South Africans are now deemed obese‚ making the country’s population the most obese nation in sub-Saharan Africa”.
Is this true? Do South Africans tip the scales as the heaviest nation in sub-Saharan Africa?
According to Africa Check – find them at AfricaCheck.org tweet them on this handle Twitter: @AfricaCheck – only a quarter – not a third – is obese.
Profmed’s public relations company, Epic Communications, sent us the press release they issued on behalf of Anderson. It references and links to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) 2014 Global Status Report on Noncommunicable Diseases. This report presents progress made around the world in preventing and controlling noncommunicable diseases, such as harmful use of alcohol and tobacco, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.
However, the report doesn’t show that 31.3% of South Africans are obese. This was the WHO’s 2008 estimate.
The WHO’s ‘crude estimate’ for the number of South Africans who were obese in 2014 is 25.6%.
So is South Africa the ‘fattest’?
But countries’ crude estimates should not be compared because the age and sex breakdown of populations differ. Comparing the incidence of obesity in a country with a very young population against that in a country with an older population would be misleading, for example.
To allow for better comparison, the crude obesity estimates are weighted by the WHO to reflect the “age and sex structure of most low and middle-income countries”. This removes any population differences that could skew comparisons.
Their weighted estimate suggests that 26.8% of South Africans were obese in 2014. This is the figure that should be used when comparing South Africa with other countries.
With an average estimate of 26.8%, South Africa topped the WHO’s rankings. It was followed by Seychelles, where 26.3% of the population are considered obese.
Country % obese (with 95% confidence intervals)
South Africa 26.8 [22.8-31.3]
Seychelles 26.3 [20.5-31.7]
Botswana 22.4 [17.3-27.5]
Namibia 18.9 [14.4-23.5]
Mauritius 17.9 [12.9-22.5]
Conclusion: 1 in 4 South Africans obese, country tops average sub-Sahara African ranking
According to the WHO obese people are more likely to suffer from diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke and certain types of cancer.