We're a nation of old fatties, mainly in KZN and Western Cape, as diets worsen with age

05 March 2019 - 15:58 By timeslive
Stats SA revealed that almost seven in 10 elderly people in the country were overweight.
Stats SA revealed that almost seven in 10 elderly people in the country were overweight.
Image: iStock

A majority of the elderly in SA are measured as overweight or obese, with poor nutrition contributing to health concerns that are potentially preventable.

Statistics SA revealed on Tuesday that almost seven in 10 elderly people (69.6%) in the country were found to be overweight on measured BMI, while 3.5% of those measured were underweight.

Among women, the majority were overweight or obese (77%) while among men just more than half (55.4%) were obese or overweight, according to the report.

Overall, there are more elderly from the black population group and the elderly are mainly living in Gauteng.

Overweight/obesity is more prevalent among whites.

"The elderly from the white population overall have almost four out of every five people being overweight/obese (79.3%), and only about one in five being of normal weight (19.8%)," said Stats SA.

On a gender split, more elderly white men are overweight/obese at 82.3%.

All nine of SA's provinces had high levels of the elderly being overweight/obese.

North West (59.3%) was the only province that had fewer than 60% of their elderly being overweight or obese - but an "alarming" 12% of this province's elderly were underweight.

Limpopo had the largest portion of their elderly being of normal weight (36.6%) and the second-lowest proportion of their population overweight/obese at 61.5%.

The two provinces that had the highest levels of overweight/obese elderly were KwaZulu-Natal (77.5%), followed closely by Western Cape (77.4%).

Rose-tinted lenses on the eyes of the beholder?

Contrary to the data, most of the over 60s did not see themselves as overweight - some even thought they were too skinny.

Stats SA found that in all nine provinces, at least 60% of the elderly perceived themselves as having normal weight.

Almost a third of the elderly in the Eastern Cape perceived themselves as being underweight, as did about one in five of the elderly in Mpumalanga.

The data was drawn from the SA Demographic and Health Survey 2016, the General Household Survey 2016 and the Mortality and Causes of Death 2016 report.

According to the SADHS and GHS, about half of the elderly are reported to have high blood pressure, with more females being hypertensive than males, said Stats SA. The majority of the elderly are hypertensive as measured in the SADHS, but only half of them are taking medication.

Diabetes was reported in less than 20% of the elderly as reported by both the SADHS and the GHS. 

Stats SA noted, though, that mortality and causes of death data show that diabetes is the main underlying natural cause of death among the elderly, followed by cardiovascular diseases.

Hypertensive diseases, of which hypertension forms part of, is the third leading underlying cause of death among the elderly. 

Diabetes is the leading cause of deaths for all population groups except for whites, said Stats SA.

Provincially, diabetes was the leading cause of deaths in Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, while hypertensive diseases were the leading killer in Northern Cape, Free State and North West.

The nutritional problems of the elderly are mostly due to dietary inadequacies and "over-nutrition associated with the nutrition transition, as seen among certain age groups of the population in some countries in Africa". Stats SA said the nutritional transition is characterised by a shift to highly refined diets which are high in fat, salt and caloric sweeteners, and low in fibre.

Risenga Maluleke, statistician-general, commented: "The statistics presented in this report are critical in informing health planners and programmes focusing on health promotion as the country strives to address the disease burden in the older population."

"... Efforts need to be commissioned with regard to prevention programmes and the promotion of a healthy lifestyle, targeted at persons of all ages."

The full report can be found here.