Statistics show that increasing numbers of South Africans are overweight or obese, with the problem at its worst among adult women and preschool children. Many South Africans are eating too much and they’re eating the wrong foods. National Nutrition Week 2014 aims to continue to educate South Africans about portion size and food choices, to change attitudes and habits so that people ‘downsize’ and reduce their health risk. ‘Choose your portion with caution!’ is the central message for National Nutrition Week 2014, building on the 2013 theme in order to strengthen awareness and give information to South Africans about the importance of portion control, in other words: eating healthily by choosing a variety of foods in the right amounts.
Unhealthy meal exampleThe increase in obesity over the past few decades in the world has been accompanied by an increase in food portion sizes, which includes an increase in energy intake. This is called portion distortion or super sizing because people are eating more than they should without even realizing it. South Africa too is following this worldwide trend of an increase in overweight and obesity in all age groups.

In addition to portion distortion, many South Africans also eat too little of certain food groups, such as vegetables, fruit and legumes. In other words, people oversize their portion of starchy foods, fat, meat or chicken or fish and undersize their portion of vegetables, fruit and legumes. Awareness of portion size for each of the different food groups is important to show how much should be eaten.
Several factors lead to portion distortion,
  1. Not eating the right amounts from a variety of foods;
  2. Frequently eating out at restaurants and buying fast foods and beverages that have bigger than normal portion sizes, especially the ‘value for money meals’;
  3. Eating snacks that are packaged in bigger than normal portion sizes;
  4. Using larger plates and containers to serve food and beverages;
  5. Serving food at the table, instead of serving the right amounts on the plates before carrying it to the table.
  6. Eating until fullness instead of just until satisfaction.

Healthy meal portion Bigger portions can lead to a higher energy intake, which in turn leads to overweight and obesity. Obesity increases one’s risk of developing high blood pressure, strokes, diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. Furthermore, bigger portions also lead to a higher salt/sodium intake, which further increases the risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease and strokes.

Consuming bigger portions of certain types of food such as energy dense and nutrient poor take-away foods can take the place of healthier foods, which can lead to inadequate intake of essential nutrients for growth and health. This type of eating plan contains too much energy and too little micronutrients. Essential micronutrients can be obtained from a diet that includes wholegrains, lean meats, legumes, fruits, vegetables and dairy products. Whilst controlling portion size is an effective, simple, reliable and sustainable tool for weight management, eating large amounts of food is just one of the reasons why people become overweight or obese. Eating high-energy foods that are high in sugar, fat and salt, not eating a variety of foods from the different food groups and not doing sufficient physical activity all lead to weight gain and increased health risks.

Healthy meal portion As more and more South Africans become overweight or obese, their risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers increases.

National Nutrition Week 2014 combined with practical tools, such as the South African Guidelines for Healthy Eating and the Food Guide, will send a strong public message and give people essential information in accessible and user-friendly formats to help them make long-lasting diet and lifestyle changes.