How healthy is South Africa?

To reveal a holistic view of the health of the country, Health24 recently launched the very first Health of the Nation Survey, sponsored by Fedhealth.


“We were excited to do the Health of the Nation Survey. We feel it will become a vital tool to get a better understanding of the overall health of South Africans. For example, how much do South Africans understand about exercise and diet when it comes to their health? Or how prevalent is the diabetic epidemic in South Africa? Are South Africans still smokers?” says Editor of Health24, Laura van Niekerk.


Van Niekerk says the results provide invaluable insights to identify potential risks and gaps in the health awareness of the average South African. The survey was completed by over 10 000 South Africans with a female response rate of 63% and 37% male.


Overall South Africans believe they are in good health. They also believe that they have a definite understanding of what it means to live a healthy lifestyle. Fedhealth’s Principal Officer, Jeremy Yatt, says the more detailed results, however, tend to paint another picture.


  • One in four of the respondents still smoke although of that number, three quarters admit to wanting to stop. “This is higher than the global average of 21%, and in addition, 22% of the female entrants smoke, compared to the global average of just 7%,” says Yatt.
  • One in three of those surveyed don’t drink while 10% of the respondents are concerned about their drinking.
  • 91% want to get in better shape for summer and while overall they don’t think they eat too much sugar, salt or fat, just over half think they eat too many carbs. One in five have tried Banting, but 60% have not tried any diets.


Yatt says while generally South Africans seem to feel they are healthy, there is very little to show for proactive health care.


  • Only 19% of the women surveyed had recently had a mammogram. Overall, entrants were not up to date with the recommended screening tests, with the exception of blood glucose.
  • 40% rarely, if ever, take medication, but one in four are on prescribed chronic medication – which equates to 25% of the respondents who are likely dealing with the lifelong management of a disease.
  • 83% have a GP they see regularly, but only 56% of women have a gynaecologist.


Stress and well-being came up as factors affecting ordinary South Africans.


  • Only 54% say they sleep well. 34% find themselves waking up during the night. The average stress level is 5.8 out of 10, the average mood is 6.7 out of 10.
  • Men rate themselves as about 10% healthier, happier and less stressed than women. “Interestingly George is the happiest and least stressed place in South Africa, and they also consider themselves healthier than people in other cities. Kimberley residents have the most stress, lowest happiness and lowest health self-assessment,” says Yatt.


The most common health problems listed were: Back pain (35%), eyesight issues (25%), depression (22%), digestive issues (16%) and skin problems (15%). Almost a quarter took sick leave in the 30 days before they answered the survey.


Other noteworthy results were:


  • 40% want to be organ donors, but aren’t.
  • 22% don’t know what number to call in an emergency.
  • 44% don’t know who Aaron Motsoaledi is.
  • Just over half believe vaccines should be compulsory.


“As with all surveys, the key is how the information is used to better our lives. We believe this survey will be a catalyst for change in preventative care awareness, stress-management education, and generally finding solutions to health issues affecting our population,” concludes Yatt.