South Africa – Urban health survey
Our way of living is killing us gradually – December 11, 2008
Many South Africans lead sedentary lifestyles, have poor and unhealthy diets and are overweight or obese, leading to all kinds of preventable but fatal conditions.
The latest South African Health Review warns that South Africans, especially poor people in urban areas, are at high risk of chronic non-communicable diseases linked to preventable risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, smoking and drinking. These factors lead to various chronic disease processes – heart attacks, tobacco- and nutrition-induced cancers and obstructive lung diseases – that culminate in high death rates.
A South African study conducted in 2000 identified heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes as causing 65 000 deaths per year, suggesting that the prevention of these diseases should receive priority attention.
The authors of the review also expressed concern that these high-risk patients were not being identified at primary healthcare level. “Routine screening for risk factors in all individuals in the health services is poor,” they wrote. In 2003, national data showed that only 18% of men and 22% of women had controlled hypertension.
In 2000, the prevalence of diabetes among adults older than 30 was estimated to be about 5,5%. A study to identify environmental risk factors for noncommunicable diseases in urban townships showed that there was a shortage of healthy, low-fat food and fresh fruit and vegetables. Another study reported that although many black women were overweight or obese, few perceived themselves as such.
“The belief that thinness is associated with personal problems and sickness, especially HIV/Aids, seems to be a barrier to maintaining normal body weight in some individuals,” it said. Young people were found to have bad habits.
A national survey found that youngsters frequently consumed fast foods (38,8%), cakes and biscuits (47,4%), cooldrinks and sweets (52%) at least four days a week. The review also found that the nutritional status of South Africans had deteriorated since 1994.
Severe vitamin A deficiency was recorded in about 15% of children – despite the legislated fortification of bread, flour and maize meal and the national high-dose vitamin A supplementation programme. High levels of zinc deficiency were also recorded.
The authors cited an example from Finland – which had the highest death rate from cardiovascular disease due to heavy smoking, high-fat diet and low vegetable intake – where a community-based intervention reduced cancer and heart disease mortality by at least 56%. The intervention led to policies banning tobacco advertising and the introduction of low-fat and vegetableoil products