South Africa has the highest obesity rate in sub-Saharan Africa, with up to 70 percent of women and a third of men being classified as overweight or obese.
Obesity Awareness Week is from Saturday October 15 to Wednesday October 19 and according to the Western Cape Department of Health, a staggering 64 percent of women and 30.7 percent of men, are classified overweight or obese. One of them is Manie Pretorius who, two years ago weighed in at a hefty 198kg, that’s the equivalent of carrying around one and a half people.
In 1995, Mr Pretorius was athletic, playing rugby and running, until his knee packed up. Without exercise, he gradually packed on the kilos, and by 2000, his body was taking strain.
He became a type-2 diabetic with very high cholesterol and an enlarged heart.
The Kraaifontein father of two and maintenance manager at Two Military Hospital in Wynberg was referred to Groote Schuur Hospital, where his doctor suggested a gastric bypass.
By this time, he was taking 54 tablets a day and injecting himself with insulin twice daily.
He went to the Chrysalis Clinic at Life Health Kingsbury Hospital in Claremont to see if he was a candidate for the gastric bypass.
Catherine Brunger, the co-ordinator of the clinic, said patients see each member of their team bef ore surgery, including dieticians, biokineticists, endocrinologists, a psychologist or psychiatrist, surgeons and a critical care physician. Only then would a patient be considered for surgery.
Once they have worked through the programme and been approved, a motivation is sent to their medical aid. But not all medical aids contribute towards the surgery.
“It’s incredible to see how many patients’ lives improve medically, physically and mentally after surgery,” said Ms Brunger.
Chrysalis surgeon Dr Ian Marr said they preferred patients to lose weight without surgical means, and they encouraged them to do so, but in cases of severe morbid obesity where patients have one or more additional diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension, raised cholesterol etc, they resort to surgery.
Mr Pretorius admits that at that time he was not fully convinced about the operation. “The doctor was brutally honest, saying it wasn’t a quick fix, there could be complications, and I’d have to work hard for it. But when he told me that if I didn’t lose weight I wouldn’t live to see 50, I made the decision to go through with it,” he said.
He had to lose 10kg before the operation which was in February 2015. Now he is no longer diabetic, his cholesterol is okay and he is running again.
Mr Pretorius said he didn’t care what people thought of him as a “fat” person. His motivation to lose weight was for his children, aged 10 and 16.
“I couldn’t walk 50m. I was unable to show them things. I couldn’t go fishing with them because I was uncomfortable,” he said.
He had been on diets before, had lost 25kg over four months, would exercise and then his knee would pack up again.
Now he wants to help others. He says eating three meals a day is important as is eating smaller portions on smaller plates, because of the psychological effect. He also weighs himself every day.
Western Cape Department of Health spokeswoman Emarentia Cupido said a growing number of people, including children, were suffering f rom chronic diseases of lifestyle because of poor diets and a lack of physical activity.
In 2015 the department developed the Western Cape on Wellness (WOW) initiative to encourage healthy living.
Ms Cupido said obesity was one of the top-three global social burdens generated by humans. “The World Health Organisation estimates that high body mass index (BMI) drives between two percent and seven percent of global healthcare spending, with up to 20 percent attributable to obesity through related diseases such as type-2 diabetes and heart disease.”
WOW promotes exercise; healthy eating and food security to prevent non-communicable diseases which include obesity, diabetes, hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases.
Patients can visit their local health facility for a referral to a dietician.
“It’s important that people take responsibility for their health and actively start changing lifestyle habits,” said Ms Cupido.
The Western Cape Department of Health offers some practical health tips. Walking is easy, free and does not need special equipment. It is ideal for people of all ages and fitness levels
It can help reduce blood pressure, risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes
Make walking part of your daily routine: take the stairs instead of the escalator/lift; walk to shops; when using public transport, get off one stop earlier and walk the rest of the way
Participate in public fun walks
Make small changes to your diet:
Drink lots of clean, safe water
Eat less sugar and avoid drinks high in sugar
Eat less fat and avoid fried foods
Add less salt to your food and avoid processed foods high in salt
Eat lots of fruit and veggies.