Obesity a sign of poor health, not wealth

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Alvine Kapitako
Windhoek

Obesity is on the rise in Namibia and the problem could get worse, a local dietician has cautioned.

Speaking to New Era, Samantha du Toit said: “We used to believe that obesity is a disease of the first world but even poor people are obese.”
She explained that it was believed that being bulky is a sign of wealth. Overweight and obesity are defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health.

Obesity is measured by the body mass index (BMI), which is a person’s weight in kilogrammes divided by the square of his or her height.

A person with a BMI of 30 or more is generally considered obese while a person with a BMI of more than 25 is considered overweight.

According to the World Health Organisation, being overweight and obese are major risk factors for chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular illnesses and cancer.

Du Toit said the cheapest foods that most people can afford are high in sugar and fat.
These foods contribute to even poor people being overweight and obese, Du Toit explained. “And we are not as active as we used to be.”

She added that Namibia is faced with a contrasting double burden of disease as both obesity and malnutrition are a matter of concern.

There are no current statistics on obesity in Namibia, said Du Toit, but based on her general observation and the clients she assists, obesity is on the rise.

“We have a problem of malnutrition and we have a problem with obesity. It is a problem worldwide as well.”

According to UNICEF, malnutrition is widespread in Namibia with one in four children under five years short for their age and underweight.

Du Toit said the problem these days is that many mothers refuse to breastfeed their babies long enough, adding that children who were not adequately breastfed are at higher risk of being obese at a later stage of their lives.

Morbid obesity, when a person’s BMI is 40 and above is also on the rise, the dietician explained.

In order to reduce chances of obesity, Du Toit advised that people should consider eating less, not only in terms of portions but also in terms of food that are high in energy.

People should be encouraged to refrain from emotional eating, she said. “People should be aware of over-eating. Sometimes a person would eat a small pie but it has the energy of eight slices of bread.”

She added that government has a role to play in encouraging the population to choose healthier diets.

“It’s going to get worse. There is no quick fix to this problem,” said Du Toit, cautioning that there would be more obese cases in the future. People should embrace a plant-based diet as much as possible. This includes grain, legumes and vegetables. “Nature knows best,” said Du Toit.

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