The University of Venda’s Faculty of Health Sciences, in partnership with the African Centre for Obesity Prevention (ACTION), the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC)/ Witwatersrand (Wits) Developmental Pathways for Health Research Unit (DPHRU), and the DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence (CoE) in human development recently hosted the World Obesity Day Webinar. Experts, professionals, and community members came together to share knowledge and experiences regarding the health burden of obesity and addressed the pressing issues surrounding obesity.
As a follow-up of the World Obesity Day Webinar to unpack and learn more about Obesity burden, the UNIVEN Nendila Newsletter team had a chat with Dr Gudani Mukoma, who is a Lecturer in the Department of Biokinetics, Recreation and Sports Science, Faculty of Health Sciences, UNIVEN.
Dr Mukoma shared with the team the importance of observing World Obesity Day. Take a look at what he said, “World Obesity Day, observed annually on the 4th of March serves as a critical reminder of the urgent need to address the global health crisis of obesity. This day is not only about raising awareness but also promoting concerted efforts to combat this multifaceted issue. From advocating for policy changes to empowering individuals to make healthier choices. World Obesity Day plays a pivotal role in driving positive change worldwide.”
In his remarks, Dr Mukoma outlined the following key purposes of World Obesity Day:
• Raising Awareness: World Obesity Day aims to increase public awareness and understanding of obesity as a multifaceted health issue with significant consequences for individuals and societies.
• Combat Stigma and Discrimination: The day seeks to challenge societal stigmas and discrimination associated with obesity, fostering empathy, and understanding for those affected.
• Promote Prevention and Treatment: World Obesity Day emphasises the importance of preventive measures and effective treatment strategies. This includes encouraging healthier lifestyles, promoting balanced diets, and advocating for increased physical activity.
• Advocate for Policy Changes: The day provides a platform to advocate for policy changes at the local, national, and international levels to create environments that support healthy living and prevent obesity.
• Global Collaboration: World Obesity Day encourages collaboration among healthcare professionals, policymakers, researchers, and the public to address obesity collectively. It serves as an opportunity for organisations and individuals worldwide to unite in the fight against obesity.
• Highlight the Health Impacts: By focusing attention on the health consequences of obesity, World Obesity Day underscores the importance of addressing this issue to reduce the burden of associated diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular problems, and certain cancers.
• Empower Individuals: The day empowers individuals to take control of their health and make informed choices regarding their diet, physical activity, and overall well-being.
• Educate the Public: World Obesity Day serves as an educational platform, providing information and resources to the public about the causes, risks, and potential solutions related to obesity.
When is a person considered to be obese?
Obesity is a medical condition characterized by the excessive accumulation of body fat to the extent that it may have a harmful effect on health. It is typically determined by calculating the body mass index (BMI), which considers a person’s weight in relation to their height. Generally, a BMI of 30 or above is considered indicative of obesity. This condition arises from a complex interplay/interaction of genetic, environmental, and behavioural factors, leading to an imbalance between calorie intake and expenditure.
What is the cause of obesity? Is it an overeating problem?
Obesity is a complex condition influenced by various factors, and its impact on a person’s well-being is extreme. Several causes contribute to the development of obesity and understanding them is crucial for addressing and managing this health issue.
• Unhealthy Diet: Consuming a diet high in calories, especially from processed and fast foods, sugary beverages, and snacks, can lead to weight gain.
• Lack of Physical Activity: Sedentary lifestyles, characterised by a lack of regular physical activity, contribute significantly to obesity. Insufficient exercise disrupts the balance between calorie intake and expenditure.
• Genetics: Genetic factors can play a role in putting individuals at risk of obesity. Certain genetic conditions, such as Ahlstrom syndrome and family history, may increase vulnerability.
• Environmental Factors: Living in environments that lack access to nutritious food options or opportunities for physical activity can contribute to obesity.
• Psychological Factors: Emotional and psychological factors, such as stress, depression, and trauma, may lead to unhealthy eating habits and sedentary behaviours, contributing to weight gain.
• Medical Conditions: Some medical conditions and medications can lead to weight gain or make weight management challenging (this includes pregnancy).
• Lack of Sleep: Inadequate sleep can disrupt hormonal balance, affecting appetite regulation and potentially leading to weight gain.
• Socioeconomic Status: Individuals with lower socioeconomic status may face challenges accessing healthy food options and engaging in regular physical activity.
What are the challenges and consequences of obesity?
Obesity is associated with various health risks, including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, certain cancers, and musculoskeletal issues, and it can have significant implications for an individual’s overall well-being and quality of life.
Impact on Wellbeing:
• Physical Health: Obesity is associated with various health issues, including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, musculoskeletal problems, and an increased risk of certain cancers.
• Mental Health: Obesity can contribute to mental health issues, such as low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety, often exacerbated by societal stigmas and discrimination.
• Quality of Life: Reduced mobility, increased fatigue, and chronic health conditions associated with obesity can significantly impact an individual’s overall quality of life.
• Social Implications: Obese individuals may face social challenges, including stigmatization and discrimination, which can lead to social isolation and negatively affect mental health.
• Financial Impact: Managing the healthcare costs associated with obesity-related conditions places a considerable financial burden on individuals and healthcare systems.
What are the most appropriate solutions for combating obesity?
Addressing obesity involves a multifaceted/many-sided approach, encompassing lifestyle modifications, behavioural changes (dietary and physical activity changes), and supportive environments to promote overall well-being and reduce the risk of associated health problems and, in some cases, medical interventions.
The University community can seamlessly incorporate practical examples into their demanding work and study schedules to promote physical activity and movement through the following strategies:
• Active Commuting: Encourage walking, cycling, or using stairs for commuting to and within the university campus.
• Desk Exercises: Promote short exercise routines or stretches that can be done at desks or workstations to combat sedentary periods.
• Walking Meetings: Encourage conducting meetings while walking, either outdoors or within designated campus areas, to combine physical activity with productivity.
• Scheduled Breaks: Advocate for regular breaks during study or work hours, encouraging individuals to engage in brief physical activities, such as stretching or walking.
• Fitness Classes and Facilities: Provide access to on-campus fitness classes or facilities to make it convenient for the university community to engage in structured physical activities.
• Incorporate Movement in Learning: Explore teaching methods that involve physical activity, such as interactive group activities, standing discussions, or incorporating movement into lectures.
• Outdoor Study Spaces: Designate outdoor areas with seating and Wi-Fi access, creating spaces where students and staff can work or study while enjoying fresh air and physical movement.
• Wellness Programmes: Implement wellness programmes that include physical activity challenges, workshops, or group activities to foster a sense of community engagement.
• Promote Recreational Sports: Support and promote recreational sports leagues or clubs on campus, encouraging participation in team sports or individual physical activities.
• Fitness Challenges and Competitions: Organise friendly fitness challenges or competitions among departments or student groups to motivate individuals to incorporate physical activity into their routines.
• Accessible Exercise Facilities: Ensure that exercise facilities are easily accessible and equipped with a variety of equipment to cater to different preferences and fitness levels.
• Active Study Breaks: Encourage students to take active study breaks by engaging in short bursts of physical activity, such as jumping jacks, yoga stretches, or a quick walk.
• Awareness Campaigns: Run awareness campaigns highlighting the importance of regular physical activity and providing tips for incorporating movement into daily routines.
By integrating these practical examples, the University community can create an environment that promotes a healthy and active lifestyle, ultimately enhancing overall well-being and academic performance.
Is obesity a life-threatening condition?
Yes, obesity can indeed be a life-threatening condition. It is associated with numerous serious health risks and can significantly increase the likelihood of developing various chronic diseases, including:
• Heart disease: Obesity is a major risk factor for heart disease, including coronary artery disease, heart attacks, and heart failure.
• Type 2 diabetes: Obesity is closely linked with insulin resistance and the development of type 2 diabetes, a condition that can lead to serious complications such as cardiovascular disease, kidney failure, and blindness.
• Hypertension (high blood pressure): Obesity is a significant risk factor for hypertension, which increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, and other cardiovascular complications.
• Stroke: Obesity increases the risk of ischemic stroke, which occurs when a blood vessel supplying blood to the brain is blocked.
• Certain cancers: Obesity is associated with an increased risk of several types of cancer, including breast, colon, prostate, ovarian, and pancreatic cancer.
• Sleep apnea: Obesity is a leading cause of obstructive sleep apnea, a condition characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep, which can lead to daytime fatigue and an increased risk of cardiovascular problems.
• Liver disease: Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is strongly associated with obesity and can progress to more severe conditions such as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and liver cirrhosis.
• Joint problems: Excess weight puts additional stress on the joints, increasing the risk of osteoarthritis and other joint-related issues.
• Psychological effects: Obesity can also have psychological effects, including depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.
• Reduced life expectancy: Overall, obesity is associated with a shorter life expectancy compared to individuals with a healthy weight.
What advice can you give to a person who is already obese?
If someone is already obese, it is important for them to take steps to improve their health and well-being. Here are some pieces of advice that can help:
• Consult with a healthcare professional: Start by consulting with a healthcare provider who can provide personalized advice based on your health status, medical history, and individual needs. They can also help you set realistic goals for weight loss and offer support and guidance throughout your journey.
• Focus on gradual, sustainable changes: Instead of trying to make drastic changes all at once, focus on making small, sustainable changes to your diet and lifestyle. This could include gradually increasing physical activity, reducing portion sizes, and making healthier food choices.
• Eat a balanced diet: Aim to eat a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Limit your intake of processed foods, sugary beverages, and high-fat foods.
• Watch portion sizes: Be mindful of portion sizes, as consuming large portions can contribute to weight gain. Use smaller plates and bowls and pay attention to hunger and fullness cues to avoid overeating.
• Stay active: Incorporate regular physical activity into your daily routine. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, such as brisk walking, cycling, swimming, or dancing. Find activities that you enjoy and make them a regular part of your routine.
• Set realistic goals: Set achievable goals for weight loss and focus on making progress over time. Remember that slow and steady weight loss is more sustainable in the long term.
• Seek support: Surround yourself with supportive friends, family members, or a support group who can encourage and motivate you on your journey. Consider joining a weight loss programme or working with a dietitian or personal trainer for additional support.
• Address emotional eating: If you tend to eat in response to emotions or stress, find healthier ways to cope with these feelings, such as practising mindfulness, engaging in relaxation techniques, or seeking support from a therapist.
• Track your progress: Keep track of your food intake, physical activity, and progress toward your goals. This can help you stay accountable and identify areas for improvement.
• Be patient and kind to yourself: Remember that weight loss takes time and effort, and it is normal to experience setbacks along the way. Be patient with yourself and celebrate your progress, no matter how small.
As Nendila Newsletter team wraps up the interview, Dr Mukoma shared some of the Key facts around obesity and overweight from WHO.
• In 2022, 1 in 8 people in the world were living with obesity.
• Worldwide adult obesity has more than doubled since 1990, and adolescent obesity has quadrupled.
• In 2022, 2.5 billion adults (18 years and older) were overweight. Of these, 890 million were living with obesity.
• In 2022, 43% of adults aged 18 years and over were overweight, and 16% were living with obesity.
• In 2022, 37 million children under the age of 5 were overweight.
Over 390 million children and adolescents aged 5–19 years were overweight in 2022, including 160 million who were living with obesity.
Dr Mukoma extends his heartfelt wishes for everyone’s lifelong health and vitality. He emphasizes, “Do not turn a blind eye to obesity,” because it can impact individuals of all ages.
The Nendila team would like to appreciate Dr Mukoma’s time for sharing this important information with our readers.
Issued by:
Department of Marketing, Branding and Communication
University of Venda
Tel: (015) 962 8525 /8710
Date: 28 March 2024

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