Posted on December 28, 2011

Fat Is Bad but Beautiful

The Economist, December 17, 2011


Last month President Jacob Zuma’s larger-than-life nephew, Khulubuse Zuma, a mining magnate not yet 40, said he could not testify at an insolvency hearing into one of his gold mines because he was too ill with a heart disease owing to his weight and lavish lifestyle.

It is no longer just the inhabitants of the rich world whose waistlines are spreading dangerously. Though 40% of its 50m people live off less than $2 a day, South Africa has become one of the world’s fattest countries. Six out of ten South Africans are now clinically overweight or obese, according to a recent survey by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), a pharmaceutical company. So, apparently, are a quarter of teenagers and one in six children under nine. Another study, by London’s Imperial College, found as many as three-quarters of South African women to be overweight, up from 57% in 1980; it classified 43% as obese, up from 24% in 1980. Men are only a shade trimmer, with 62% reckoned overweight.

As in the richer world, South Africa’s accumulating kilos are the result of rapid urbanisation, less physically demanding work, the spread of television, and a shift in diet from home-cooking to processed foods rich in fats and sugar. The country’s fast-food industry is booming. But whereas most Westerners seek to be thin, many black Africans still admire bulk in men and big contours in women. President Zuma’s four wives are all chubby.

Seven out of ten South Africans in the GSK survey said they had never been on a diet. {snip}