Hooked & Hijacked: South Africa’s Obesity Crisis

This week’s Special Assignment, produced by Adel van Niekerk, looks at the growing problem of obesity in South Africa. 75% of South African women and 25% of South African men are overweight and a high percentage of these people are obese. South Africa has more obese people than any other country in the SADC region and we rank in the top ten of obese populations in the world. South Africa also ranks in the top ten countries in the world where the number of obese children is a worrying trend that points to, for the first time, a generation who will live shorter lives than their parents.

Obesity leads to lifestyle diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol, all of which are avoidable when a person is within a healthy weight range and is physically active. Special Assignment takes a closer look at the staggering amount of hidden sugars that we, including our children, eat every day in foods like yoghurt, cereals, condiments and beverages.

In the past nine years, obesity has cost an already over-stretched health system 23 billion rand in its treatment of lifestyle diseases. This figure is predicted to rise to 8 billion rand a year. The health ministry’s plans to deal with obesity has seen the successful introduction of a law that prescribes the maximum level of salt that food manufacturers can add to food products. The inclusion of a law monitoring sugar levels in products with added sugar is in the pipeline but is yet to be passed.

We talk to people at the forefront of our obesity epidemic, including: Health Minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, Karen Thomson, a self-confessed former sugar addict who advocates a high fat, low carbohydrate diet and runs a clinic to help fellow sugar addicts; Valerie September, a pensioner who suffers from diabetes, an obesity related illness; Lisa Sonn, a former sugar addict who attended Karen Thomson’s clinic and Professor Tim Noakes, an outspoken advocate of the popular low carbohydrate, high fat banting diet, whose about turn in nutrition and subsequent pro-banting statements in the media have been deemed controversial and by some, downright irresponsible.

Watch Hooked & Hijacked: South Africa’s Obesity Crisis, produced by Adel van Niekerk, on Special Assignment, SABC 3 at 20h30 on Sunday.

Repeated Wednesdays at 23h30