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How plant-based diets can lighten the load of obesity

In line with the global theme ‘Everybody Needs to Act’, Discovery Vitality dietitian Terry Harris suggests some simple ways to make an impact this World Obesity Day.

March 4, 2022 marks World Obesity Day, and given the numbers, it’s no wonder the global theme is a call for everyone to act. Over 800 million people around the world currently live with obesity, with millions more at risk – and childhood obesity is expected to rise by 60% over the next decade, reaching 250 million by 2030. 

Don’t think obesity doesn’t affect you

Importantly, says Discovery Vitality dietitian Terry Harris, we should not dismiss the problem of obesity if we don’t personally struggle with our weight, because in one way or another, obesity affects us all. The medical consequence of obesity is estimated to cost over $1 trillion by 2025, globally – and the burden of obesity falls on all kinds of stakeholders. 

“Individuals and families are negatively affected by lower longevity, a poorer quality of life and higher household expenses. Insurers contend with higher claims and society as a whole experiences lower presenteeism, higher absenteeism and higher disability costs. 

Can eating more plants help save the world?

“The good news is that there’s incredibly strong evidence that links an increased intake of vegetables and fruit to the reduced risk of lifestyle diseases, including obesity-linked diseases,” says Harris. “So one way we can all make a difference is by considering the planetary health diet, which focuses on consuming more whole, plant foods and far less meat and highly processed foods.” 

“A plant-based approach to eating is becoming increasingly popular as evidence for the health benefits of such diets stack up, and as more people seek environmentally sustainable alternatives to animal proteins,” she says.

Data supporting the planetary health diet claims that “the universal adoption of a planetary health diet would help avoid severe environmental degradation and prevent approximately 11 million human deaths annually.”

The latest EAT-Lancet report concluded that this data is “both sufficient and strong enough to warrant immediate action.” The report goes on to state: “Food will be a defining issue of the 21st century. The Commission shows that feeding 10 billion people a healthy diet within safe planetary boundaries for food production by 2050 is both possible and necessary.”

The proof is in the (fruit) pudding

With plant-based menus and foods becoming more common, tasty and accessible both in grocery stores and at restaurants, planning and normalising plant-based meals every day is a single step we can all take to transform our own and our family’s health,” says Harris. 

“Chances are, by doing so, you’ll see and feel the proof not just in your body, but also on your wallet. At Discovery, we see the evidence play out clearly in our data. Vitality members earn Vitality points and get cash back on healthy food items they purchase at Pick n Pay and Woolworths, and our data shows that the bigger these rewards  and the more Vitality points our members earn, the more healthy foods they buy.”

By encouraging members to improve their baskets, the Vitality HealthyFood benefit can also be effective in helping them improve their weight.  

“Our analysis shows that purchasing just one more food item a week within each of the healthy categories of dairy, fats and oils, fruit, vegetables, protein-rich foods and legumes, as well as just one less food item a week within each of the unhealthy categories of processed meats, convenience meals, confectionery, and sugary drinks, can result in a 3kg weight loss over a year.

How Discovery Vitality members are improving their baskets and their weight

How can we act to make a difference today?

So, what can each South African do this World Obesity Day to reduce the impact of obesity, we asked. Harris endorses these ‘Have these five” and “Give these a miss” when deciding what to eat every day:

Source: Adapted from the research organisation Blue Zones.

She concludes, “Consuming plant-based foods is no longer an approach solely for fervent animal-lovers or environmentalists. It’s something every one of us can – and should – aspire to, and Vitality makes it easy because our HealthyFood range aligns closely with the planetary health diet. So, give a whole food, plant-based diet a try – even if it’s just a few times a week. Every meal can make a difference!” DM/ML


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  • Brian Kritzinger says:

    At last – people are starting to realise that plant-based eating is the way to go. Not to mention, of course, that eating meat and dairy is nutritionally unnecessary, meaning that we eat these things purely because of a taste preference. Which then means that the suffering, cruelty, violence and death that we visit upon billions of sentient animals is as immoral as it is grotesque.

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