Baby fat

10 January 2014

Research shows that the prevalence of obesity is higher among women than men, a red flag for children's health. Obese women are likely to give birth to and raise children who might become obese or overweight, says Dr Olufunke Alaba of the Health Economics Unit in the School of Public Health and Family Medicine.

Alaba's recent paper, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health earlier this year, also shows that the obesity socio-economic gradient "favours" the rich.

In particular, rich men are more likely to be obese than their poorer counterparts. Women, on the other hand, have similar obesity patterns, regardless of socio-economic status.

"Focusing on obesity in women could benefit future generations," says Alaba, whose talk on the topic won the best staff presentation prize at the school's second research day in September.

In recent years there's been a dramatic increase in obesity in low- to middle-income countries. Alaba's study examined the socio-economic inequalities in obesity among South Africa's adults.

The socio-economic costs of obesity in any society are significant, she says.

"While the direct and indirect costs of diseases such as malaria can be very high, depending on the severity and length of the incidence, in the case of obesity the costs are a lot higher, and may be borne throughout the lifetime of the patient and caregivers."

The greater burden and huge costs to individuals, households, the health system and the economy in the long run are associated with terminal diseases that originate from obesity, she adds.

"There is an obvious correlation that can be drawn between adults and children, especially women, because children's decisions, even from the prenatal stage, are influenced mostly by their mother's choices."

Obesity, says Alaba, is mostly an indicator of general lifestyle.

"However, it should be noted that our environment – where we grow, learn, live, work, and play – influences the choices that we make. It's imperative that individuals' decisions and choices should be investigated in the context of that environment."

Story by Helen Swingler.

Read more:

Saddle up
Tipping the scales: SA's kids too fat, too sedentary
Feast your eyes

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