Obesity a Deadly Spinoff of AIDS Epidemic in Africa
August 25, 2006
Obesity rates are rising in South Africa as women, especially black women, value plumpness as a sign of wealth and good health. Tessa van der Merwe of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, who heads the country's first obesity clinic, said roughly half of South African women are overweight as are more than 64 percent of black women. Up to 30 percent of South African women are considered obese.
"[Patients] will say to you, 'But I don't want to lose this weight because [they] will think that I am dying of AIDS," van der Merwe said.
Van der Merwe, who recently addressed a South African gastroenterology conference, said resistance to lifestyle change and treatment has caused obesity rates to skyrocket.
She noted that much of the obesity problem reflects a lack of education about HIV/AIDS. "You can actually be very well for a long time without dropping weight," she said. "It is only in the terminal stages that you will start losing weight. [AIDS] is a very misunderstood disease in South Africa, as is obesity for that matter."
Widespread obesity is likely to create a diabetes epidemic. The World Health Organization estimates that diabetes cases will increase as much as 98 percent in Africa by 2030.
"We are facing a health economic situation that will be unaffordable," van der Merwe said of the projection. "There is no way we can afford to treat a 98 percent increase in diabetes in this country.
08.16.2006; Quentin Casey, National Post; CanWest News Service