Perceptions, attitudes and challenges about obesity and adopting a healthy lifestyle among health workers in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal Province
The prevalence of obesity is reported to be high among health workers both in high-income and low-income countries. This is alarming, as health workers not only serve the community’s health needs, but should also serve as role models for a healthy lifestyle. Health workers are instrumental in delivering quality health care to patients and the entire population at large and if they are unable to take care of their own health, staff shortages may become severe, resulting in deteriorating health service delivery. It is therefore important that obesity among health workers is reduced before it gets worse. It has been noted that there is an increasing prevalence of obesity among health workers, which in turn is a common risk factor in all non-communicable diseases. The current study explored perceptions and attitudes about obesity amongst health workers in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal province. This was an explorative and descriptive qualitative study utilizing in-depth interviews for data collection. A total of 18 health workers from the three selected hospitals in Pietermaritzburg medical metropolitan were interviewed. Thematic analysis was done, using. a priori themes from the health belief model. The current study found that all health workers were aware of the negative consequences of being overweight or obese. However, only a few of the participating health workers chose to adopt a healthy lifestyle as a result of their weight. Some of the positive motivators were improving their public image, improving their health status and becoming more flexible, while negative motivators were finding it difficult to fit into old clothes, fear of suffering from obesity related conditions and reducing the risk of suffering from NCDs. The health worker participants reported that African cultural beliefs, limited operational times of physical activity facilities and unavailability of healthy food were barriers to adopting a healthy lifestyle. The African cultural belief of considering people who are overweight to be healthy, progressive and prosperous prevents people from changing their behaviour on weight control. In addition, participating hospitals do not have independent physical exercising facilities as such the available physiotherapy departments give priority to patients, resulting in staff members having only limited hours for exercising. Lastly, the participating hospitals did not sell healthy food options in the cafeterias resulting in health workers buying what is available. Public health care facilities need to invest in their work force. This may include giving health workers access to physical exercise facilities and affordable healthy food within the hospital. The infrastructure and system should enable them to pursue a healthy lifestyle. Institutions should introduce health-behaviour change programmes on obesity and other NCDs in order to combat established cultural norms, which advocate for overweight body sizes to be desirable because of positive cultural connotation afforded to them.