By Tiyani Rikhotso
This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 3 of VARSITY News.
South Africa has come out on top as the unhealthiest country across the globe for 2019. Named as one of the most comprehensive studies, the Indigo Wellness Index determines a country’s ranking based on 10 different health metrics. It looks at life expectancy, blood pressure, diabetes risk, obesity, depression, happiness, alcohol use, tobacco use, inactivity and government spending on healthcare. A ration of 0 being the worst and 1 the best is then used to calculate where each country stands within each metric. Out of the 191 one countries studied, South Africa trailed far behind coming dead last.
Our ranking is alarming, however it doesn’t come as a surprise, as health and wellness have been an area of concern in South Africa for many years. The factors in which we fared the worst were alcohol use, inactivity, life expectancy and obesity.
It is no secret that substance abuse is an issue in this country that greatly impacts our health and homes. Various government campaigns have tried to tackle the problem, specifically that of driving under the influence, yet high alcohol consumption continues to plague our communities. Many South Africans also suffer from obesity and its associated health risks. Obesity is on the rise in this country as many find themselves in a socio-economic position that makes it difficult to build their diet around healthy, whole and nutritious foods. Prioritising exercise and accessing the health care and knowledge they need has also become increasingly difficult for a vast majority. Again, we’ve seen an effort from the government to try and curb the problem through initiatives such as the sugar tax that was implemented in 2018. This was well motivated as high sugar consumption is a leading cause of obesity and type 2 diabetes. However, what is needed (and would be more impactful) is a complete transformation of the diet and exercise culture in this country, with an emphasis on making wellness more accessible.
On the other end of the study’s spectrum, Canada was named the healthiest country. Strong links can be made between their position and their high government expenditure on health care. Access to health care as well as the economic standing that most Canadians find themselves in, form a firm foundation for sound health. In contrast to us, Canada had a high score for happiness which confirms the relationship between mental, physical and emotional health. Our low score in this area speaks to the history of pain and trauma that many South Africans walk through in their daily lives. It also highlights the work that still needs to be done in de-stigmatizing mental health and instead creating spaces of hope and healing.
Will South Africa ever be able to turn the tables and walk towards better health such as the example Canada has set? With discussions of passing a National Health Insurance bill, South Africa could see universal health care rolled out across the country. Perhaps the manifestation of what Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has coined “Ramaphosa-care”, could be the push in the right direction our country needs in addressing the current state of health and wellness. One thing is for sure, our results in the study should be a wake up call for us all.