Obesity and HIV are a dangerous combination not many know about.
Many people believe that HIV-positive people are very thin or underweight. But this is not the case and is in fact, a dangerous and outdated belief that is rooted in stigma and a lack of knowledge about people living with HIV.
Because HIV is so effectively treated by ARVs, HIV-positive people are currently every much at risk of weight gain and obesity as anybody else.
Furthermore, obesity can have added serious consequences for HIV-positive people, over and above the usual risks of heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
According to research published in the South African Journal of Clinical Nutrition, South Africa currently faces three devastating epidemics. These include, HIV/Aids, obesity and non-communicable diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
In the past, weight loss was associated with HIV transmission, but recent studies have found that an increasing number of people living with HIV are also overweight or obese in Southern Africa.
Why is obesity dangerous for those living with HIV?
According to the study, “obesity potentially exacerbates the metabolic abnormalities associated with HIV and antiretroviral therapy (ART)”, which means that being obese can put someone who is HIV-positive at risk of further health complications and other potential non-communicable diseases.
The data shows that there is an increased risk of morbidity (death) in those who are both HIV-positive and obese.
According to a 2016 South Africa Demographic and Health Survey, 31 per cent of South African men are obese, which the World Health Organization defines as an excessive or abnormal accumulation of fat that causes health problems.
What can be done?
If you are HIV-positive and overweight, try to keep your weight, particularly the fat around your stomach and waist (which is the most dangerous because it impacts your internal organs and heart) down to a healthy weight.
Remember, fresh fruits and vegetable are always a healthier option, and fried, sugary or processed foods like maize and bread may be cheap and easily available, but they are also extremely fattening.
Speak to your doctor or clinician about how you can maintain a healthier weight and continue to take your ARVs as prescribed to improve your health as well as your overall quality of life.
The Little Poof is a contributing writer for the Anova Health Institute, this is their view, which may or may not reflect those of Anova and its affiliates.