Our lifestyle is killing us
Fewer South Africans are dying each year, but the number of them dying from lifestyle-related diseases is reaching almost epidemic proportions.
Tuberculosis is still the biggest killer in all but two provinces, according to data released by Statistics SA yesterday on the causes of death in 2011.
About 10.7% of South Africans died of TB, compared to 12% two years prior. Pneumonia and influenza account for the second-highest number of deaths, but deaths from strokes have jumped from fifth to the third-biggest killer in only two years while heart attacks now rank fourth.
Together strokes and heart disease account for nearly as many deaths as TB.
"South Africans are killing themselves," said Dr Dominique Stott, executive of Medical Standards and Services at PPS insurance.
She said: "HIV is not the end of the world. It is a treatable disease.
"It is lifestyle diseases that are the problem. People are not looking after themselves. They are overindulging in high fats, sugar, and salt, and eating too much of the wrong food," said Stott.
The risk of strokes and heart disease is increased by inactivity, being overweight and having untreated high blood pressure.
University of the Free State Doctor of Sports Medicine Louis Holtzhausen said: "It is my personal feeling that, in South Africa, we have been focusing too much on infectious diseases such as TB and HIV and we have forgotten about the chronic diseases of lifestyle.
"About 50% of all deaths are due to lifestyle disease," he said.
Holtzhausen said that most South Africans had a poor lifestyle.
"We smoke, eat a poor diet and we don't exercise. The single most important thing one can do to boost the prevention of disease is exercise."
Statistics South Africa said yesterday that diabetes was on the increase. It was responsible for 4% of deaths in 2011 compared to 3.6% in 2009.
Vash Mungal-Singh, the CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation, said: "We are eating more unhealthy fast foods. People believe this lifestyle indicates their social and economic progress."
However the findings show that, overall, the total number of deaths has been declining since 2007. About 506000 people died in 2011, 7.7% down on the nearly 548000 in 2010, said StatsSA.
The Medical Research Council's Professor Debbie Bradshaw told The Times:
"The overall decrease in deaths is largely due to the extensive roll-out of antiretrovirals.
"However the extent of Aids is not accurately reflected, as HIV is, unfortunately, often not reported on the death notification," she said.
Fat study goes to heart of the matter
Saturated fat does not cause heart disease and so-called "healthy" polyunsaturated fats do not prevent cardiovascular problems, according to a new study at Cambridge University.
In contrast with decades-old nutritional advice, the researchers found that giving up the likes of fatty meat, sausages, cream, butter and cheese is unlikely to improve health.
These findings tally with the theory of sports scientist Dr Tim Noakes and other recent studies showing diets low in saturated fat do not lower cholesterol or prevent heart disease.
The lead researcher at Cambridge, Dr Rajiv Chowdhury, said: "With so many affected by coronary heart disease, it is critical to have appropriate prevention guidelines which are informed by the best available scientific evidence."
The team conducted a "meta-analysis" of data from 72 studies involving more than 600000 participants from 18 countries.
A key finding was that total saturated fat, measured in the diet or the bloodstream, showed no association with heart disease.
Omega-3 fatty acid found in oily fish was linked to a lower risk of heart disease, but omega-3 and omega-6 supplements appeared to have no benefits.
Earlier this month, Dr James DiNicolantonio of Ithaca College, New York, called for a new public health campaign to admit "we got it wrong". He claims carbohydrates and sugar are more responsible.
However, health experts have expressed caution at the findings.
Prof Tom Sanders of King's College London said: "Studies like this just cause a lot of confusion and undermine sensible dietary advice."
©The Daily Telegraph