SA cities rated on their healthy living profiles

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Discovery Health Medical Aid’s wellness programme has released the results of their ObeCity Index 2017, based on data collected from their Vitality members, reports Health24.

Since their last ObeCity Index study done in 2014, Cape Town has managed to maintain, and even improve, their efforts toward healthier living.

According to the report, six South African cities were involved in the study – Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Bloemfontein. The various categories cities were scored in are: weight status, food purchasing, fruit and vegetable portions purchased, sugar purchased, and salt purchased.

Regarding weight status – Cape Town, at number one, means the city has the healthiest weight status; second is Johannesburg; Durban is third; Pretoria is fourth; Bloemfontein is fifth; and Port Elizabeth is sixth.

Regarding food purchases – Cape Town, rated at number one, means the city has the most balanced food purchases; second is Bloemfontein; Port Elizabeth is third; Pretoria is fourth; Johannesburg is fifth; and Durban is sixth.

Regarding fruit and vegetables – Cape Town, rated at number one, means the city purchases the largest number of fruit and vegetable portions; Johannesburg is second; Bloemfontein is third; Pretoria is fourth; Port Elizabeth is fifth; and Durban is sixth.

Regarding salt – Durban, rated at number one, means the city has the lowest consumption of salt; Port Elizabeth is second; Pretoria is third; Bloemfontein is fourth; Cape Town is fifth; and Johannesburg is fifth.

Regarding sugar – Durban, rated at number one, means the city has the lowest consumption of sugar; Port Elizabeth is second; Pretoria is third; Johannesburg is fourth; Cape Town is fifth; and Bloemfontein is sixth.

The report says in his presentation of the data, Dr Craig Nossel, head of Vitality Wellness, said the country has a great amount of work to do in order to lower the figures of obesity in the country.

According the Global Burden of Disease study for 2016, dietary risk factors and physical inactivity killed just under 12m people. Hypertension wasn’t far behind, weighing in at just under 10.5m deaths.

The report says obesity isn’t something that only affects adults – the number of obese people, whether child or adult, has been increasing over the years. In Nossel’s presentation, obesity statistics for women increased by 14% from 1980 to 2015.
Going forward, Nossel said we need to seriously consider buying better, cooking our own food and stop eating take-aways and convenience foods – fast food consumption has increased drastically in recent times.

Nossel also mentioned that we need to become more physically active, a study the organisation will look into doing over the next few years.



The index found however, that although Cape Town residents may be the slimmest in the land and buy the healthiest food, barely half of them are at a healthy weight. Business Day reports that only 53.5% of Capetonians had a healthy weight, a marginally better result than Johannesburg’s, where 52% made the grade. Bottom of the pile was Port Elizabeth, where only 48.8% of its residents had a healthy weight. The assessment was based on body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference.

The report says Vitality’s report adds to a growing body of research showing that South Africans eat too little fruit and veggies, far too much sugar and salt, and all too readily turn to convenience food instead of preparing meals from scratch. Nossel says also highlights the extent of obesity in the middle classes, despite the choices available to them.

That South Africa has a rising proportion of obese people does not just raise their risk of life-threatening conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, but also places an increasing economic burden on the state, medical schemes and life insurers. Overweight or obese people incur an increase in healthcare costs of about R4,400 a year, according to Vitality.

However, the report says there is some good news in the study – it found that Vitality members who bought healthy food had a 10% lower BMI than people who did not, and that this purchasing behaviour was associated with up to R2,500 in lower annual health costs.

These results highlight the return on investment from Vitality’s pioneering rewards model, which draws on behavioural economics to nudge its members towards a healthier lifestyle with incentives such as cheap gym membership, discounts on fitness gear, and cash-back offers on healthy food items.

The report says the results were reviewed by several academics, including Barry Popkin of the University of North Carolina, who said the reductions in BMI associated with purchasing less junk food had important implications, as the changes set people on long-term healthier eating trajectories that promised even greater effects.

The study drew on data collected from just fewer than 500,000 Vitality members during 2016. It included information on weight and waist circumference, as well as the contents of their shopping trolleys at Vitality’s retail partners Pick ‘n Pay and Woolworths.

Health24 report
Business Day report

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