Tipping the Scales: World Obesity Day Highlights the Benefits of Plant-Rich Diets


The obesity crisis is often an elephant in the room in terms of political correctness. Depending on one’s social setting, the “O”-word may be assiduously avoided unless you’re looking to offend. “Fat-shaming” is a term which has ploughed its way into the present conversation, used to imply a degree of humiliation or mockery at any mention of girth. Simply cite obesity or bodyweight issues and some may find it automatically triggering; when the fact is that there’s no judgement or ridicule in exploring its medical prevalence and how a plant-rich diet can reduce the risk.

World Obesity Day takes place every year on March 4th and serves as a platform to raise awareness and advocate for practical solutions in addressing this global health concern. Due to the circumspect tone with which the issue is discussed in today’s culture of sensitivity, it ironically seems inevitable in our culture – but if allowed a little latitude, maybe we can dignify the topic and offer a helpful outlook.

To begin with it’s not all about the read-out on the dreaded bathroom scale. A “healthy weight” is usually said to be a body mass index [BMI] between 18.5 and 24.9. Above 25 is in the overweight range and above 30 is defined as obese. If you haven’t done it before, BMI is calculated by dividing an adult’s weight in kilograms by their height in metres squared. You don’t need a doctor to work yours out. However it’s important to note that BMI does not take into account factors such as muscle mass, age, ethnicity, pregnancy, and body composition, among others. It should also be stressed that the term does not consider mental health issues and weight management problems in relation to certain medication use, and that eating disorders also have the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric illnesses. With respect to all body types it should be acknowledged that good health is possible at different weight ranges and that BMI is merely one biometric in a complex mesh of medical indicators used to describe one’s overall health.

There are few things as mentally and emotionally sustaining as being comfortable in your own body. However, according to the Mayo Clinic people with obesity are more likely to develop a number of potentially serious health problems, including heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes, a range of cancers, hypertension, high cholesterol, and digestive and liver problems. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that those suffering from obesity experienced a disproportionately high rate of hospitalisation, intensive care treatment, and mortality risk during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Suffice it to say the associated disease risks here heighten the need for medical and pharmaceutical treatments, and increased personal healthcare costs in general. 

The first World Obesity Day took place in 2015, focussing on a particular theme each year. For 2024 the official theme is “Let’s talk about obesity and…” emphasising the need for the prevention and management of illnesses that tend to accrue more frequently at higher body mass indexes.

With the excess calories, and high availability of refined carbohydrates and sugars and saturated fats from animal products readily available in the modern diet the issue is steadily escalating. Worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975, according to Statista. In 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and older, were overweight. Of these over 650 million were obese. 39 Percent of adults aged 18 years and over were overweight in 2016, and 13 percent were obese. In 2020, around 2.6 billion people aged five years and older worldwide were considered overweight or obese.

This number is expected to increase to around four billion by the year 2035. World Obesity estimates that in 2020, 175 million children aged 5-19 years were living with obesity globally. The global share of the population with weight issues was forecast to continuously increase between 2024 and 2029 by 1.9 percentage points, reaching 43.76 percent in 2029. In South Africa, the Western Cape Government claims that roughly 31 percent of men and 68 percent of women in the country are obese, with more than 13 percent of South African children between the ages of 6-14 years considered overweight or obese. In the battle of the bulge things appear to be heading in largely one direction.

The National Institutes of Health lists unhealthy eating habits and a lack of physical activity as the core contributors to obesity, with foods high in sugars and fats being particularly addictive according to WebMD. While mobility does help in losing weight, it’s nutritionally-speaking impossible to exercise off a bad diet and it’s not necessarily all about the balance of calories in vs. calories out, as is commonly thought. What you’re eating is at least as important a factor as how much you eat. The bodily impact of what’s on the dinner table isn’t always obvious.

Of all dietary types, vegans are the only subset of people who have consistently normal BMIs. In one study researchers found that average BMI was lowest among vegans, while average BMI was highest among the meat-eaters. It shows an association between diet type and weight, with vegetarians consistently having a lower body mass index than non-vegetarians.

Plant-rich diets tend to be high in dietary fibre that aid in weight loss, and typically be lower in saturated fats and cholesterol compared to meat-heavy or omnivorous diets. A recent study by the Physicians Association for Nutrition South Africa found that after a 21-day whole food plant-based eating challenge for type 2 diabetes patients the participants were able to reduce their medication use and also lost weight and abdominal circumference.

Incremental lifestyle changes tend to produce the most enduring success, and with the myriad health benefits of plant-rich diets becoming more apparent, anyone looking to slim down should give it a try. ProVeg South Africa offers their ProVeg Veggie Challenge along with an App to help guide individuals who are unfamiliar with plant-based eating through an entire month of making the transition.


Media Contact

ProVeg South Africa – Wikus Engelbrecht – Communications Manager:; +27 64 172 0120

About ProVeg South Africa:

ProVeg South Africa is the local branch of ProVeg International. ProVeg is an international food awareness organisation working to transform the global food system by replacing conventional animal-based products with plant-based and cultured alternatives.

ProVeg works with international decision-making bodies, governments, food producers, investors, the media, and the general public to help the world transition to a society and economy that are less dependent on animal agriculture and more sustainable for humans, animals, and the planet.