The United Nations Children’s Fund, Unicef, says one in five children under the age of 15 is overweight globally.  Studies show that South Africa has the highest rates of obese children especially among the two to four and 10 to 15 age groups.

This emerged at a Johannesburg workshop on Obesity Prevention which coincided with World Obesity Day on Thursday.

Obesity is a burden to society, individuals and governments. It causes illness, suffering and premature death. Obesity reduces work productivity and increases early retirement rates.

Diabetes is one of the non communicable diseases that have been linked to obesity. South Africa has the highest number of people living with diabetes in Africa and ranked 28th globally.

Doctor Sundeep Ruder, an Endocrinologist, says diabetes remains one of the top killers in the country.

“The prevalence rates are not accurately reported in SA. So the reported rates around 2 million to 3 million known diabetics but we know 50% of diabetics are not diagnosed yet. So it’s probably double that figure. And the increase in prevalence is set to be in Africa 140% by the year 2040 and more people die from diabetes related complications than the sum of HIV TB and Malaria in 2015.”

Unicef’s Alison Feeley says food producing companies are to blame for the problems because they spend billions of rand on marketing campaigns.

“Childhood obesity is one of the most serious global public health challenges we face. There’s approximately 41 million infants and young children that’s under 5 who are overweight or obese globally. And then 124 million children and adolescents are obese. That translates to nearly 1 in 5 children and adolescents who are obese.”

Research conducted by the University of the Western Cape shows that obesity is linked to poverty and food insecurity in South Africa.

WATCH BELOW: