The facts are clear but confusing – people are getting fatter and yet they are also becoming more preoccupied with how their bodies look and what they are eating. In South Africa, it is estimated that more than R44 million is spent annually on registered over the counter and prescription diet pills. And that doesn’t include the ever-controversial slimming mixtures, meal replacement powders and herbal preparations.


So what is overweight and obesity?

Overweight is the word used to describe people who have a large amount of body fat. People who eat more food than their body needs usually become overweight.

Obesity is the word used to describe being very overweight. When a person becomes obese, they are likely to develop health problems and are at risk of developing diseases such as high blood pressure, Type II diabetes, heart disease, gall stones, back and breathing problems and certain cancers. It is for this reason that obesity is considered to be a disease. The World Health Organisation stated that obesity is the biggest global chronic problem in adults. Obesity needs to be managed by a recognised and trained professional.

Obesity also poses an economical threat, as the cost of treating illness resulting from obesity as well as loss in productivity can be substantial.

The largest contributor to the increase in the obesity figure is LIFESTYLE. It is common for people to follow a high energy, high fat, low carbohydrate diet and we have become less and less active. These habits need to be changed.

All food contains energy. A person’s body uses food energy to live. When someone eats more food than what they need, the extra is stored in their body as fat. They can then become obese. Furthermore, there is a strong genetic influence in obesity.

Controlling Body Weight

To control and prevent becoming overweight or obese one needs to:

  • Control the amounts of food eaten at each meal as well as between meal snacks.
  • Cut down on the energy rich foods: Foods containing fat are rich in energy and fat is easily stored in the body as fat. It is therefore wise to cut down wherever possible on ones consumption of fat and fat rich foods such as fried foods, chips and pastries.
  • Focus on having balanced meals that include a variety of foods. Eat more fruit and vegetables and whole grains (whole wheat bread, flour and cereals), dried peas, beans and lentils.
  • Know that many drinks, including alcoholic beverages, are high in energy.
  • Watch out for excess food eaten for pleasure. Family pressures and social outings can result in overeating.
  • Read food labels. Limit the amount of foods that have added fat. Find out from the manufacturers how much fat is in your favourite foods.
  • Be aware that people under stress often eat too much and that many people eat because they are lonely or bored.
  • Exercise more. Exercising burns up energy. Aim to exercise for 30 minutes every day. Remember that exercise also makes a person feel better.
  • Keep a diary. Record everything eaten for at least two weeks. People often overeat without noticing it.

One can check whether one has a weight abnormality by means of the Body Mass Index (BMI) which is calculated as follows:

BMI = weight (kg) รท height (m)2

A BMI of 20 to 25 indicates a healthy weight
A BMI of 25 to 30 denotes overweight
A BMI of greater than 30 is an indication of obesity

It is essential to remember that there are many ways to loose weight but the only way to loose weight permanently and to sustain the weight loss is to change your lifestyle permanently. “Crash” diets, promising quick weight loss don’t work. For individualized information and scientific facts on dieting, make an appointment with a registered dietitian.

F.A.C.S. Scientific Director. 2009.