DM: 'Capetonians are healthiest, but Joburgers spend more time working out...'

Published 06 March 2023 in Insights

Daily Maverick

'Capetonians are healthiest, but Joburgers spend more time working out, ObeCity Index shows'

By Neesa Moodley

Daily Maverick - Wellness

Published 01 March 2023

A Discovery Vitality study, the ObeCity Index, this week confirmed what much of the country already suspected on some level. Vitality members in Cape Town – where you see people running on the promenade and in residential areas at all hours of the day – have the healthiest weight, while those in Gqeberha in the Eastern Cape had the most room for improvement.

Surprisingly, Johannesburg had the highest percentage of members logging a workout, while Bloemfontein had the lowest. Cape Town members, on the other hand, logged the highest percentage of healthy food purchases, while those in Pretoria had the least. Most respondents in the survey were aged between 31 and 65.

The ObeCity healthy weight ranking lists the healthiest to least healthy cities as follows:

      1. Cape Town
      2. Johannesburg
      3. Durban
      4. Pretoria
      5. Bloemfontein
      6. Gqeberha

      Discovery Vitality chief executive, Dinesh Govender, says the company analysed almost 300,000 Vitality Health Checks completed last year, to rank the cities according to the proportion of Vitality members who have a healthy weight.

      The average South African is eating less than three servings of fruit and vegetables per day, rather than the recommended intake of five servings.

      When it comes to sugar, the ObeCity Index shows that the typical Saffer consumes the equivalent of 24 teaspoons of sugar daily, double the recommended maximum of 12 teaspoons a day.

      The three top sugary purchases were soft drinks, sugary baked goods and chocolate.

      The three most popular healthy food items Vitality members bought last year were English cucumbers (almost 1.5 million), avocados (988,308) and tinned tuna (978,739).

      What is a ‘healthy weight’?

      Dr Mosima Mabunda, head of wellness at Discovery Vitality, says obesity and being overweight are defined as excessive fat accumulation that may impair health.

      “Body mass index or BMI (your weight in relation to your height) is most widely used in clinical settings and has been shown to be a good proxy for health risks associated with excess weight.” Your BMI is calculated as follows: your weight divided by the square of your height.

      “Global research shows that a person’s risk of death increases at BMI ranges higher than 25. Those with a BMI range above 30 face the highest health risks,” she says.

      However, Mabunda adds that BMI cannot distinguish between fat and lean mass, meaning that certain people, such as those with increased muscle mass, may be incorrectly classified as overweight. Vitality assesses your weight status using BMI together with your waist circumference to mitigate against the limitations of BMI.

      Govender says global research shows good nutrition and physical activity are important for managing weight. The Vitality ObeCity Index analysed members’ physical activity and food purchasing data to give Vitality insights into members’ exercise and eating habits.

      “The obesity epidemic is a global challenge that is on the rise, and, as a nation, we have one of the highest rates worldwide – more than half of South African adults are overweight or obese.

      Lifestyle habits

      “Maintaining a healthy weight is important for good health, as it helps prevent and even manage health conditions like diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure,” says Govender.

      Lifestyle habits such as poor sleep patterns, consuming more kilojoules than you burn off and not exercising enough are some of the key contributors to South Africa’s hefty weight problem. You should be active for at least 150 to 300 minutes a week, and exercise can be a simple daily walk if going to gym is not your thing.

      “The health risks associated with excess weight account for almost three million lives lost worldwide each year. We hope that the ObeCity Index highlights possible solutions, not only for Vitality members but for all South Africans.

      “This will go a long way towards achieving our core purpose of making people healthier using behavioural, clinical and actuarial science to encourage positive behaviour change for the long term.”

      Globally, people are struggling with excess weight gain, and it is a leading indicator of poor health outcomes. 'The World Health Organization' estimates that 39% of adults are overweight, and 13% are obese.

      Carrying excess weight can diminish almost every aspect of a person’s health, including increasing the risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

      Discovery data shows that Vitality members who are overweight or obese experience significant increases in healthcare claims. The risk of these comorbidities increases as members move further out of the healthy weight range.

      Because moving alone does not guarantee you will be a healthy weight, Discovery is launching Vitality HealthyWeight, a personalised digital weight-management programme that gives members access to a dietician, at rates starting from R250 a month.

      Benefits include assistance with grocery shopping, cooking and meal preparation, help in understanding the psychology of eating behaviours and personalised support to help them achieve their weight goals. BM/DM

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      Image Credit:  'People at the Sea Point Promenade in Cape Town. (Photo: Leila Dougan)'