Obesity in Namibia a Growing Problem

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By Wezi Tjaronda

WINDHOEK

Many Namibians are either overweight or obese, a dietician has said.
Being overweight is when one weighs more than one should, while obesity is when one weighs much more than their body can cope with. When one is grossly overweight, the percentage of body fat is usually 40 to 50 percent.

One should worry about being overweight when their body mass index (BMI) (weight divided by square of height) is more than 25. A BMI of 25-30 indicates overweight, while over 30 is obesity.

A better measurement of obesity is by waist circumference, which is halfway between the lowest rib bone and the hipbone.
Waist circumference of over102 cm for men and 88 cm for women indicates obesity.

Charlotte Thiele of Charlotte Thiele and Partners Registered Dieticians says obesity affects Namibia at an alarming rate and only a small percentage of the population has normal weight.

Testimony to this are the many people, mostly women, that seek advice on healthy living and also enrol on Adeva’s Weight Management Programme. (Adeva is a company that manufactures and supplies natural food supplements.)

An official at Adeva told New Era that most of the people that seek advice with their office are “a bit obese”. While some want to lose a bit of weight, the official said others wanted to lose between 20 and 30 kg.

Although there are no statistics in Namibia, obesity is now causing increased development of type 2 diabetes.
Based on statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO) Website, Namibia had 25 000 diabetic patients five years ago. It is predicted that the number would balloon to 60 000 by the year 2030.

Causes of overweight and obesity include unhealthy lifestyles such as eating wrong food and lack of exercise.

Most Namibians are known for their love of red meat and fatty foods compared to healthier alternatives such as chicken, fish and vegetables.
Other contributing factors include genes, culture, emotional factors, age and medical problems.

Due to overweight and obesity, some people also suffer from arthritis (as the body cannot carry so much weight), back pains, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, leading to strokes and heart diseases. These conditions, according to Thiele, are very common in Namibia.
Obesity can also contribute to cancer development.
In Namibia, adds the dietician, more adults were likely to be obese in the past but now children are also becoming overweight and obese at an alarming rate,
The Namibia Demographic and Health Survey of 1992 found that the BMI of women were pronounced because women in central and southern regions were better nourished than women in the northern regions of the country.
It said 11 percent of women in the south and central region had a BMI of below 18.5 compared to 16 percent in the northeast and northwest regions.
BMI of below 18.5 indicates chronic energy deficiency.

A paper on the World Pandemic of Obesity: Southern Africa cited genetic, culture, ethnicity, diet, physical inactivity and socio-economic status as risk factors for obesity.

According to the International Association for the Study of Obesity, urbanisation will mean that more than half the world’s population will be concentrated in towns and will rise to 60 percent in 2020.

“The restrictive infrastructure of the urban environment presents a barrier to physical activity, but more significantly creates a greater dependence on industrial food processes, dominated by high fat, sugar and salt dietary components,” said a paper on Diabetes and Obesity: Time to Act. Remedies for obesity and overweight, stressed the dietician, are not slimming or diets but healthy eating and regular exercise.

But another WHO report, “Obesity-Preventing and Mitigating the Global Epidemic” says obesity cannot be prevented by simply telling people to change their diet and exercise.

“Thus, it must be realised that the usual advice of eat less of this and more of that, no matter how encouragingly expressed and attractively illustrated, in general, does not engender the sustained motivation essential for long-term weight loss.”

The report says while present day African women desire an attractive lifestyle of their white counterparts, the masses want more of palatable and energy denser foods and prefer the life of low-level activity.

Another factor compounding losing weight is that although African women wish to lose weight, the staff at hospitals and clinics are overwhelmed by patients seeking urgent treatment.

For those that go on treatments, the paper said, the pharmacological costs of treatment for obesity are prohibitive.

Guidelines for healthy eating from Charlotte Thiele and Partners include restricting fat, sugar, refined foods and salt in one’s diet as well as observing seven golden rules which include eating a variety of foods, having regular meals, having fiber and less sugar, drinking enough water (six to eight glasses per day) and drinking alcohol moderately.

The World Health Organisation has projected that by 2025, 300 million people are likely to be obese.
Over 2.5 million deaths, which occur worldwide, are attributed to overweight and obesity.

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