More than 31 per cent of 15–19-year-old females in South Africa live with overweight or obesity, threatening a noncommunicable diseases epidemic

UNICEF South Africa launches new campaign during National Nutrition Week to promote healthier lifestyles and reduce the risk of noncommunicable diseases.

11 October 2022
female-sport-team-high-five
UNICEF South Africa/2015/Schermbrucker

PRETORIA, 11 October 2022 – The persistent high rates of overweight and obesity, particularly among adolescent girls, is putting lives at risk, as the transition phase between childhood and adulthood is a critical period for the onset of obesity-associated morbidity. Some 31.3 per cent of 15-19-year-old females are overweight or obese, compared to 9.6 per cent of males in the same age range.

UNICEF South Africa has launched ‘My Body, My Health: My Wealth’, a campaign aimed at preventing noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) among adolescents and youth, coinciding with National Nutrition Week, 09 to 15 October. This supports the central theme of the Department of Health focus on ‘Making healthy food choices easier’ for all.

“The high rates of overweight and obesity among children and adolescents in South Africa are extremely concerning,” said Muriel Mafico, Deputy Representative, UNICEF South Africa. “Investing in and enabling adolescents and young people to improve their mental wellbeing and physical lifestyles, particularly adolescent and young women, will save lives and ensure a more prosperous future for society as a whole,” added Mafico.

Young people’s choices to adopt healthier lifestyles are influenced by school and family environments, as well as peers and role models. Barriers to physical activity include time spent on social media and watching television, feeling tired, availability of facilities, safety, and having enough time all of which can prevent young people from being active – COVID-19 related lockdowns presented an additional challenge.

The My Body, My Health: My Wealth campaign, supported by AstraZeneca's Young Health Programme (YHP), works to make NCD prevention a national priority and enable young people to live healthily. The campaign, co-created with the input of young people, meets adolescents and youth where they are: both online and offline. Creative design, engaging content, live challenges and inspiring role models will spearhead the campaign to lower the incidence of NCDs among youth in South Africa by investing in their health.

NCDs are chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes. Collectively, they are responsible for 70 per cent of deaths worldwide. NCDs are the leading cause of death and disability in South Africa, carrying huge costs to patients, families, communities, the health system and the economy at large. Several NCDs can be prevented by adopting a healthy diet, engaging in regular physical activity, and managing stress levels.

UNICEF South Africa will leverage its extensive network of young volunteers across the country. Youth clubs, in and out of schools, have been invited to join the campaign, share their knowledge and encourage other young people to adopt healthy habits.


Notes to Editors

Statistics come from the South Africa Demographic Health Survey (SADHS 2016), as well as the UNICEF South Africa 2022 study on diet and physical activity among adolescents and youth in South Africa.

Childhood obesity among children under five is 13 per cent, more than two times that of the global average, while 60 per cent of 20–24-year-old women are overweight or obese, compared to about 14.5 per cent of men the same age.

The ‘My Body, My Health: My Wealth’ campaign supports the 2022 ‘National Strategic Plan for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases’ led by the National Department of Health.

Media contacts

Toby Fricker
Chief of Communication & Partnerships
UNICEF South Africa
Tel: +27 61 418 7486
Sudeshan Reddy
Communication Specialist
UNICEF South Africa
Tel: +27 82 561 3970

About UNICEF

UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.

Follow UNICEF South Africa on TwitterFacebookInstagramYouTube and LinkedIn