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Weight Status

Being overweight is a condition of abnormal or excessive fat in the body to the extent that it may have a negative effect on your health.

Being overweight is the result of an energy imbalance where energy intake has been greater than the energy use over a period of many years. Obesity is rarely caused by a slow metabolism or hormonal problems. An excess of the wrong food and a lack of exercise are not the only causes of this imbalance. Other factors have also been associated with obesity:

  • Family history of obesity
  • The more pregnancies a woman has had, the more likely she is to be overweight
  • In South Africa, low-income groups tend to be less overweight, except in communities where obesity is culturally regarded as attractive
  • Alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking and negative emotions, such as depression, have been found to induce obesity

What are the dangers of being overweight?

Being overweight can increase the risk of developing:

  • Heart disease (extra weight puts more strain on the heart)
  • Certain cancers, arthritis, shortness of breath, gallstones, slower healing and increased susceptibility to infections
  • Psychological problems - the obese person may feel insecure  

The risk factors for developing heart disease include:

  • High blood pressure (the risk of developing increased blood pressure is 2-6 times higher in overweight than healthy weight individuals)
  • High blood cholesterol
  • High triglycerides (another type of fat)
  • Diabetes 


By calculating the Body Mass Index (BMI), we can tell whether or not a person is overweight.

BMI =    weight in kg
         (height in metres)²

The ‘healthy’ range is 18.5 – 25. Overweight people score 25-30 and obese people, over 30. These cut-off points are not absolute and people with high muscle mass (such as body builders) may have a high BMI without being overweight.

Click here to calculate your BMI.

Waist circumference

Where your weight is accumulated matters! That’s because the type of fat that accumulates around the abdomen differs to fat in the rest of the body – this fat is called visceral fat, and is very metabolically active. In other words, it releases substances, which can increase cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure and blood glucose, all of which in turn increase your risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

Are you an apple or a pear? No, not the fruit – your shape! An apple-shaped body is where the weight is mostly found around the abdomen, and a pear-shaped body is where the weight is mostly on the hips and thighs. Weight around the abdomen increases the risk for cardiovascular disease more than weight around the hips and thighs. That is why a waist measurement can be a good indicator of your health risk.

So how do you measure up?

You can check whether your waist measurement falls into the ideal category or whether you are putting yourself at risk by checking the table below:

Waist circumference   Interpretation
Less than 80 cm Ideal
80 – 87 cm Increased risk for CVD
88 cm or more High risk for CVD
Waist circumference Interpretation
Less than 94 cm Ideal
94 – 101 cm Increased risk for CVD
102 cm or more High risk for CVD


How to measure your waist:

  • You will need a measuring tape.
  • Clear your abdominal area of any clothing, belts or accessories. Stand upright facing a mirror with your feet shoulder-width apart and your stomach relaxed. Wrap the measuring tape around your waist.
  • To find the correct place to measure, place the tape measure around the smallest part of your natural waist (the point of narrowing/over your belly button). Make sure the tape is parallel to the floor and is not twisted.
  • Relax and take two normal breaths. After the second breath out, tighten the tape around your waist. The tape should fit comfortably snug around the waist without depressing the skin. Remember to keep your stomach relaxed at this point.
  • Still breathing normally, take the reading on the tape.


If you don’t have a tape measure, your clothes size can also indicate if you are at risk. See this table below:
Ideal waist circumference   Less than 80 cm
Ideal pants siz Approx. size 38 (14) or less
Ideal waist circumference Less than 94 cm
Ideal pants size Approx. size 36 (12) or less


Advice for weight management

  • Gradual weight loss of 0.5-1kg per week is the safest and most effective long-term way to lose weight. 
  • Unfortunately there are many unhealthy weight loss diets out there. Generally these "magic" cures are expensive with only short-term results (weight is picked up again in the long term – often more than the original weight). Be aware of these diets and don’t be fooled by them. 
  • A healthy lifestyle is a much better approach that can become a habit and sustained long-term! The combination of exercise and healthy eating is the most effective long-term approach to losing weight.

 Dietary advice

  • Weight loss can be achieved in a variety of ways, such as by reducing fat (especially unhealthy saturated fat), refined starchy foods (like white bread, biscuits, etc.), sugar and alcohol as well as eating smaller portions and by increasing physical activity.
  • Stick to three balanced meals a day and have healthy snacks such as fruit, veggie sticks or low-fat dairy in between if you’re really hungry.
  • To control portion size, you can try using a smaller plate. You can also dish up a smaller serving the first time around and then if you are still hungry after the meal, have some more vegetables or salad.
  • Reducing your overall fat intake can help to reduce total kilojoules (energy):
  • Low-fat or fat -free foods are better choices than full fat choices. Choose lean meats where possible, or replace red meat with chicken, fish or legumes for some days of the week.
  • Using lower fat cooking methods (such as stir-frying, grilling, baking, steaming or boiling instead of deep frying) can help. Avoid adding unnecessary oils and fats to your food.
  • Avoid oily takeaways and street foods such as vetkoek, gatsbies, fried chicken and chips.
  • Make sure that your starchy foods are high in fibre or are whole-grain (e.g. whole-wheat bread, oats, whole-wheat pasta and high fibre cereals), as these will help keep you feeling fuller for longer.
  • Most people need about 6 – 8 glasses of water every day. A practical way to achieve this is to replace sugary drinks and juices with water.
Other advice to assist with weight management
  • Set a reasonable and realistic goal for weight loss (see a registered dietitian if you need more help).
  • Some people eat when they are not hungry, or out of boredom/ frustration, which can result in weight gain and is therefore not a healthy habit. It is important to be aware of this and recognise it in order to keep yourself from over- eating in times of stress. Read more here: http://www.heartfoundation.co.za/topical-articles/are-you-really-hungry
  • Take your time and eat slowly to enjoy your food. 
  • Many people find other approaches useful, like joining a weight-loss group and focusing on changing their lifestyle to improve their health, and not just their looks.
  • Increasing physical activity levels can help achieve a healthier weight. Aim to at least 30 minutes of activity five times a week, and gradually increase this up to 60 minutes, to promote weight loss. Read more about how to incorporate physical activity into your day here
  • To read about doing the maths for weight loss, click here: http://www.heartfoundation.co.za/topical-articles/simple-maths-equals-easy-weight-loss

Download the Heart and Stroke Foundation's generic weight loss meal plan. For more individualised advice, contact the Heart and Stroke Health Line. Call 0860 1 HEART (0860 1 43278) or email heart@heartfoundation.co.za.