Rise in obesity among pregnant women in South Africa

The prevalence of overweight and obesity tends to be higher among women from more affluent socioeconomic backgrounds than among their counterparts from poorer backgrounds. Photo: iStock


There is an increase in obesity among women of reproductive age in South Africa. This is revealed in a recent study by Mweete Debra Nglazi, a doctoral student at the University of Cape Town whose research focuses on public health.

Contributing factors include a lack of physical activity and increased consumption of unhealthy foods.

The prevalence of overweight and obesity remained higher among older women than among young people.

“As a result, increased public health attention is needed towards obesity and its health consequences for this vulnerable population. Efforts are needed across different sectors to prevent excessive weight gain in women. of reproductive age, focusing on the risk factors identified in the article,” noted Nglazi and co-author John Ele-Ojo Ataguba.

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The article, titled Overweight and obesity among non-pregnant women of reproductive age in South Africa: subgroup regression analyzes of survey data from 1998 to 2017, was published in the journal BMC Public Health in February. of this year. The study found that overweight went from 51.3% to 60% and obesity went from 24.7% to 35.2%.

Nglazi used nationally representative data from the National Income Dynamics Study from 2008 to 2017, the SA Demographic and Health Surveys from 1998 and 2016, and the Income and Expenditure Surveys from 2005/06 and 2010/11 to assess the prevalence of changes in overweight and obesity between 1998 and 2017. among non-pregnant women aged 15-49 years in South Africa. She also examined the determinants of overweight and obesity.

She said the prevalence of overweight and obesity tended to be higher among women from wealthier socio-economic backgrounds than among their counterparts from poorer backgrounds.

“South Africa is experiencing a nutrition transition, characterized by an increasing prevalence of overweight and obesity. The finding that overweight and obesity have increased over time could be due to rapid economic development since the new democracy in 1994, urbanization and the increase in the number of women in the labor force.

Working women tend to have low energy jobs and mobility is less energy intensive due to shorter journeys and the use of motorized transport.

“Time pressure is a challenge for many women in preparing healthy meals due to long working hours and greater access to processed foods,” she explained.

Nglazi said those with higher education tended to have less energy-intensive jobs, be more physically inactive and have sedentary lifestyles.

“In contrast, we found that in 1998, the odds of being overweight and obese were lower among women with a college education compared to those without a primary education,” he said. she declared.

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of caring for people who are obese or overweight, as these conditions put them at greater risk of death.

“With the Covid-19 pandemic and the high prevalence of obesity among women of childbearing age in South Africa, to minimize the adverse consequences, there is an urgent need to prioritize vulnerable populations through vaccination, timely testing and detection, and to provide prompt and aggressive treatment for obese patients even before their condition becomes serious,” said Nglazi.

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