Incentives an important tool against obesity


“It’s really a global crisis, obesity. We’re seeing that it used to be a problem more in the developed world, but the emerging markets are showing that obesity is absolutely a problem for them as well. Globally, now there are around two billion people that are overweight or obese,” Discovery Vitality wellness manager Candice Smith told CNBC Africa.

“The recent data that came out of South Africa in August this year, showed that 25 per cent of men and 40 per cent of women are in fact overweight and obese, and this has risen, which is the concerning bit.”

South Africa is now the third fattest nation on earth. According to a new report by Merrill Lynch, if the country is to tackle obesity over the coming decade, it will form part of an important new investment theme for fund managers and shape thinking by policy makers around the world.


Despite the promotion of healthy living and availability of gym clubs, South Africans are still struggling to fight off the bulge.

“Just purely giving people information, we’ve particularly found, is not always sufficient to get behaviour change. To get someone to actually change their behaviour is a fairly complex problem.  The environment as well plays a massive role,” Smith explained.

Foods high in sugar, sodium and saturated fats have become increasingly cheaper than fruit and vegetables. Fast food outlets have also been positioned in certain locations to make it more convenient for consumer access.

“There’s a lot stacked against us, and it’s difficult to change these complex behaviours. We have a double burden of disease in South Africa, where we have malnutrition but we also have overconsumption and obesity,” said Smith.  

“People that were traditionally eating more natural, wholegrain and vegetable diets are moving into the urban areas and starting to eat these foods that are high in fat, in sugar, in sodium, and over consuming them.”

Incentive and rewards are however a means of trying to break bad eating habits, and improve the general wellbeing of South Africans.

“Incentives, we found, [are] very effective. We’re working with some brilliant people around these incentives and what actually works,” added Smith.

“A very good example of that is [we] have a healthy food benefit with Pick n Pay and Woolworths, where we give members 10 or 25 per cent cash back on their healthy food purchases. So incentives do play [an important] role.”