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The World’s Highest-Paid Soccer Players 2019: Messi, Ronaldo And Neymar Dominate The Sporting World

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To compile our list of the world’s highest-earning soccer players, we spoke with clubs, players’ agents, commercial sponsors and soccer experts in the U.S. and Europe. All figures are converted to U.S. dollars and include soccer salaries, bonuses and endorsements. Transfer fees are excluded. Earnings are for the period June 1, 2018, to May 31, 2019.

The World’s Highest-Paid Soccer Players 2019

Off the pitch, Gerard Piqué is CEO of investment firm Kosmos, which recently announced plans for a 25-year, $3 billion partnership with the International Tennis Federation to transform that sport’s Davis Cup. (Photo by Marcos del Mazo/LightRocket via Getty Images) GETTY

20. Gerard Piqué

  • Total: $21.7M
  • Salary & Bonus: $17.7M
  • Endorsements: $4M
  • Largest Sponsor/Partner: Nike
  • Club: Barcelona   Nation: Spain   Age: 32

In January 2018, Pique signed a contract extension that keeps him at Camp Nou until June 2022 and contains a $600 million buyout clause. Off the pitch he is president of investment firm Kosmos, backed by Hiroshi Mikitani, the chairman and CEO of Tokyo-based e-commerce company and Barcelona jersey sponsor Rakuten. The firm announced plans for a 25-year, $3 billion partnership with the International Tennis Federation to transform that sport’s Davis Cup and create a major new annual season-ending World Cup of Tennis Finals. Pique and his longtime partner, singer Shakira, met on the set of her “Waka Waka” video filmed ahead of the 2010 World Cup and have two children together.

19. Graziano Pelle

  • Total: $21.7M
  • Salary & Bonus: $20.7M
  • Endorsements: $1M
  • Largest Sponsor/Partner: Nike
  • Club: Shandong Luneng  Nation: Italy  Age: 33

Pelle left the Premier League’s Southampton for Shandong Luneng in 2016 and became one of the sport’s highest paid. Despite interest from European clubs, he renewed with the Chinese super club in January of this year.

18. Sergio Ramos

  • Total: $21.9M
  • Salary & Bonus: $19.9M
  • Endorsements: $2M
  • Largest Sponsor/Partner: Nike
  • Club: Real Madrid  Nation: Spain  Age: 33

Ramos held a press conference in May to put to rest speculation that he was leaving Real Madrid. He and club president Florentino Perez confirmed a Chinese club made him an offer but that the 33-year-old would see through his current contract, which expires in June 2020. In June he married Spanish television personality and mother of his three children, Pilar Rubio, in a star-studded ceremony in Sevilla. He is currently developing a docuseries for Amazon Prime around his daily life that will feature his nuptials.

17. James Rodriguez

  • Total: $22.1M
  • Salary & Bonus: $16.3M
  • Endorsements: $4.5M
  • Largest Sponsors/Partners: Adidas, Marc Jacobs, Hublot
  • Club: Bayern Munich through June 2019, on loan from Real Madrid Nation: Colombia  Age: 27

The Colombian attacking midfielder moved to Real Madrid in a much-hyped signing after winning the Golden Boot award in the 2014 World Cup. But after largely serving as a $15-million-a-year benchwarmer, he joined Bayern Munich on a two-year loan in July 2017. Bayern’s CEO confirmed in May that he will not take up the purchase option with Real, leaving Rodriguez in limbo ahead of the 2019-2020 season. There is little doubt about his marketability off the pitch. His poster boy looks have helped him land deals with Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs, and Hublot. The international’s deal with his biggest sponsor, Adidas, reportedly calls for him to wear the No. 10 jersey for every team he represents, a matter which complicates future club transfers.

16. Thiago Silva

  • Total: $22.5M
  • Salary & Bonus: $21.5M
  • Endorsements: $1M
  • Largest Sponsor/Partner: Nike
  • Club: Paris Saint-Germain  Nation: Brazil  Age: 34

The Brazilian captain of Paris Saint-Germain received his French citizenship in March after six-and-a-half years playing in the country’s capital. He missed the last two months of this club season after undergoing knee surgery but recuperated in time to play in this summer’s Copa America. The 34-year-old’s current contract with PSG runs through June 2020.

15. Sergio Aguero

  • Total: $22.6M
  • Salary & Bonus: $17.1M
  • Endorsements: $5.5M
  • Largest Sponsors/Partners: Puma, Pepsi
  • Club: Manchester City  Nation: Argentina  Age: 31

The Argentine striker, affectionately nicknamed Kun as a child by his grandfather, has been the top goal scorer each season at Man City since joining in 2011. Last year he became the club’s all-time leading goal scorer, having hit the back of the net 199 times in 291 career appearances. His long-term sponsor Puma gifted him with a pair of gold boots to wear to celebrate the occasion. The Blues striker signed a one-year contract extension in September 2018 to stay with the club through 2021.

14. Luis Suarez

  • Total: $23.6M
  • Salary & Bonus: $20.1M
  • Endorsements: $3.5M
  • Largest Sponsor/Partner: Puma
  • Club: Barcelona  Nation: Uruguay  Age: 32

The Uruguayan’s contract with Barcelona runs through July 2021 and pays him $20 million in salary and bonus. For the third season in a row he finished as La Liga’s second top goal scorer, behind teammate Messi. In August 2018, he swapped his shoe sponsor, switching from Adidas to rival German sportswear maker Puma. His appeal has spread to Asia, where he pitches upstart tech gadget company Tronsmart in China and Tourism Malaysia.

13. Angel Di Maria

  • Total: $23.7M
  • Salary & Bonus: $21.7M
  • Endorsements: $2M
  • Largest Sponsor/Partner: Adidas
  • Club: Paris Saint-Germain  Nation: Argentina  Age: 31

The 31-year-old Argentina winger signed a contract extension with Paris Saint-Germain in October 2018 that ties him to the French champion until June 2021. This season was one of his most prolific with the club. He hit the back of the net 19 times in all club competitions and lead the team in assists.

Forward Mohamed Salah’s goal celebration involves performing sujud, the Islamic act of prostration to God, an act a Stanford University study credits with a decline in Islamophobia in Liverpool. (Photo credit: Oscar Del Pozo/AFP/Getty Images) GETTY

12. Mohamed Salah

  • Total: $25.1M
  • Salary & Bonus: $16.1M
  • Endorsements: $9M
  • Largest Sponsors/Partners: Adidas, EA Sports, Vodafone, DHL, AlexBank
  • Club: Liverpool  Nation: Egypt  Age: 26

Salah signed a 5-year deal with Liverpool in July 2018 without a release clause. It contains a base and bonus structure worth at least $15 million a year. He has nabbed the Premier League Golden Boot award the past two seasons as the league’s top goalscorer and was both club and league’s Player of the Year last season. A devout Muslim, Salah performs the sujud after scoring. Fans celebrate with him, chanting in part “I’ll be Muslim too.” He’s credited for reducing Islamaphobia in Liverpool. The so-called Egyptian King helped propel his club to a second consecutive UEFA Champions League Final and scored the first of the club’s two goals on the way to victory this year. This March, Adidas made Salah the face of its iconic 1970s-born Adicolor line of sport and streetwear. He has appeared in Adidas commercials alongside Messi and David Beckham.

11. Gareth Bale

  • Total: $27.1M
  • Salary & Bonus: $20.6M
  • Endorsements: $6.5M
  • Largest Sponsors/Partners: Adidas, Wish
  • Club: Real Madrid  Nation: Wales  Age: 29

In October 2016, Bale signed a contract extension with Real Madrid lasting through June 2022 that has the potential to pay up to $33 million in salary and bonus annually. Bale became the first substitute to score two goals, including a stunning overhead kick, to lead Real Madrid to a record third straight UEFA Champions League victory in 2018. His future at Real is the subject of constant speculation. Club manager Zinedine Zidane demoted him to a substitute and noted he denied Bale a “farewell game” when he omitted him from this season’s last match. An avid golfer, Bale replicated three of the world’s most famous golf holes in his backyard. He is signed on with sponsor Adidas through 2020.

10. Antoine Griezmann

  • Total: $27.7M
  • Salary & Bonus: $23.2M
  • Endorsements: $4.5M
  • Largest Sponsors/Partners: Puma, Huawei
  • Club: Atletico Madrid through May 2019  Nation: France  Age:28

In May 2019, Griezmann announced via a video on Atleti’s Twitter account that he was leaving the Madrid club after five years playing 260 matches and scoring 133 goals. Griezmann either scored or set up 8 of the total 14 goals for France that helped them win the 2018 World Cup. He infamously celebrated scoring with a Fortnite dance. The 28-year old forward is long-sponsored by footwear maker Puma and current U.S.-banned Chinese tech giant Huawei.

9. Oscar

  • Total: $29M
  • Salary & Bonus: $27M
  • Endorsements: $2M
  • Largest Sponsor/Partner: Adidas
  • Club: Shanghai SIPG  Nation: Brazil  Age: 27

After five years at Chelsea and two Premier League titles, Oscar made a shocking move to Shanghai SIPG of the Chinese Super League in January 2017. The 27-year-old quadrupled his weekly take-home pay and now makes over $25 million annually through 2020. Oscar provided a league-high 19 assists and scored 12 goals to help SIPG win the Chinese Super League in 2018.

8. Mesut Ozil

  • Total: $30.2M
  • Salary & Bonus: $23.7M
  • Endorsements: $6.5M
  • Largest Sponsors/Partners: Adidas, Mercedes Benz, Beats by Dre
  • Club: Arsenal  Nation: Germany  Age: 30

In February 2018, Ozil signed a contract extension with Arsenal tying him to club until 2021 and doubling his annual pay to about $24 million. Ozil quit Germany’s national team in July 2018 citing racism by the German federation president, fans and media who criticized him for photos with Turkey’s President Erdogan. He and his fiancée announced they would celebrate their June 2019 nuptials by funding 1,000 life-changing surgeries for underprivileged children. Erdogan was a wedding guest. In 2018, Ozil founded professional Esports team M10 eSports to compete in EA Sports’ FIFA competitions. In 2019 he expanded by adding a Fortnite team.

While on tour with Nike in the United States in June 2019, French national and Paris Saint-Germain wonder kid Kylian Mbappé stopped by Venice Beach, California, for a quick pickup match with locals. PHOTO CREDIT: NIKE

7. Kylian Mbappé

  • Total: $30.6M
  • Salary & Bonus: $26.6M
  • Endorsements: $4M
  • Largest Sponsors/Partners:Nike, Hublot, Good Gout
  • Club: Paris Saint-Germain  Nation: France  Age: 20

The 20-year-old Frenchman, initially on loan from Monaco, is on full contract with Paris Saint-Germain until 2022, making over $20 million annually plus performance bonuses. In 2018, then 19-year old Mbappé became the youngest French player to score in a World Cup and the second-youngest teenager after legend Pele to score in a World Cup Final. Mbappé won the 2018 World Cup Best Young Player Award and was its joint second-highest scorer, then won Ligue 1’s 2019 Player of the Year award as its 2018-2019 top goal scorer. The French forward donated his $500,000 World Cup bonus to a charity that organizes sporting events for disabled children. Watchmaker Hublot made Mbappé its first active player global ambassador in 2018 and became his leading sponsor after boot sponsor Nike.

6. Alexis Sanchez

  • Total: $30.8M
  • Salary & Bonus: $28.3M
  • Endorsements: $2.5M
  • Largest Sponsor/Partner: Nike
  • Club: Manchester United  Nation: Chile  Age: 30

Sanchez moved to Manchester United from Arsenal in January 2018 and will make between $400,000 and $500,000 week plus an additional $1 million bonus annually through 2022. This past season the 30-year-old struggled with injuries and scored just 6 goals and had 5 assists in 37 appearances. Sanchez plays a leading role in the film Mi Amigo Alexisreleased in May 2019 about a young boy from Chile who is desperate to follow in his hero’s footsteps.

5. Andres Iniesta

  • Total: $32.5M
  • Salary & Bonus: $30M
  • Endorsements: $2.5M
  • Largest Sponsor/Partner: Asics
  • Club: Vissel Kobe  Nation: Spain  Age: 35

The Spanish striker came up through Barcelona’s training academy and spent 22 years, 3 as captain, at the Catalan club before moving to Vissel Kobe in Japan in May 2018. Following his club move, Iniesta ended a 19-year sponsorship with Nike and signed a multiyear deal with Japanese footwear company Asics in October 2018. Iniesta’s winery, Bodega Iniesta, began production in 2010 and includes his Minuto 116 for the minute in the 2010 World Cup when he scored the goal that gave Spain its first title.

4. Paul Pogba

  • Total: $33M
  • Salary & Bonus: $29M
  • Endorsements: $4M
  • Largest Sponsor/Partner: Adidas
  • Club: Manchester United  Nation: France  Age: 26

After four years with Juventus, Pogba returned to Manchester United in 2016 for a then-record $120 million transfer fee. His 5-year contract pays over $20 million a year. The French midfielder auctioned off his 2018 World Cup-winning, Adidas-sponsored shoes for over $30,000 and donated the money to disadvantaged high schoolers. Pogba’s struggle to get along with and perform under 25-time trophy winner Jose Mourinho are considered a main reason Man U relieved the manager of his duties in December 2018.

3. Neymar Jr.

  • Total: $105M
  • Salary & Bonus: $75M
  • Endorsements: $30M
  • Largest Sponsors/Partners: Nike, Red Bull, EA Sports, Mastercard, Gaga Milano, Gillette, Beats by Dre, DAZN
  • Club: Paris Saint-Germain  Nation: Brazil  Age: 27

Neymar is on a 5-year contract with Paris Saint-Germain through June 2022 worth a total cash outlay of more than $600 million, of which $350 million will be paid in salary. His transfer from Barcelona to PSG stands as the most expensive in the world at $263 million, which the French club paid in full ahead of his signing. The 27-year-old Brazilian is the second-most-popular athlete on social media with 223 million followers on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. In 2016 Neymar was found guilty of avoiding taxes between 2011 and 2013 and paid a $1.2 million fine. In June 2019 a woman filed a rape claim against him in Brazilian court. Neymar lost Brazil’s national team captaincy, ahead of participation in this June’s Copa America, after an altercation with a fan in the stands after PSG’s loss in the French Cup.

2. Cristiano Ronaldo

  • Total: $109M
  • Salary & Bonus: $65M
  • Endorsements: $44M
  • Largest Sponsors/Partners: Nike, Herbalife, Altice, DAZN, MTG, Electronic Arts, CR7 line of denim, underwear, footwear, fragrance, hotels and gyms
  • Club: Juventus  Nation: Portugal  Age: 34

Ronaldo joined Italian club Juventus in July 2018 after 9 years with Real Madrid for what amounted to a pay cut. His 4-year deal pays him a gross annual salary of $64 million. Juventus sold 520,000 Ronaldo jerseys worth over $60 million within a day of release. Ronaldo has won FIFA’s Player of the Year five times, is the first player to win Premier League, La Liga and Serie A titles, and is all-time leading goal scorer in the UEFA Champions League. The Portuguese star is the most followed athlete on social media with 370 million total followers. He generated $474 million in value for his sponsors on social media last year. In January 2019 Ronaldo agreed to a $21 million fine for tax evasion between 2010 and 2014. He currently faces a rape claim case filed in federal court in the United States.

1. Lionel Messi

  • Total: $127M
  • Salary & Bonus: $92M
  • Endorsements: $35M
  • Largest Sponsors/Partners: Adidas, Gatorade, Lays, Pepsi, Ooredoo, Mastercard, Jacobs & Co.
  • Club: FC Barcelona  Nation: Argentina  Age: 31

Since his debut for Barcelona in November 2013, Messi has played 687 matches for his club, scored 603 goals and won 33 club titles, including 10 La Liga championships. His current contract with Barcelona will ensure he remains a one-club man through 2020-2021 and pay him over $80 million annually. He also has a lifelong deal with Adidas. He has been awarded FIFA’s Player of the Year for the world’s best player five times and won the European Golden Shoe for top scorer on the continent a record six times. In 2016 he and his agent father were convicted of tax fraud in Spanish court for avoiding income tax between 2007 and 2009. He was ordered to pay a $2.25 million fine, and his 21-month prison sentence was reduced to an additional $250,000 fine.Send me a secure tip.

-Christina Settimi; Forbes Staff

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World’s Highest-Paid Athletes 2019: What Messi, LeBron And Tiger Make

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Major League Baseball had a staggering run this year when, over a four-week period, a quartet of its biggest stars—Nolan Arenado, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Mike Trout—signed blockbuster, long-term deals worth a combined $1.3 billion. They ranked as four of the biggest playing contracts in the history of sports.

The deals will create generational wealth for their families, but only Trout, ranked 17th with $50.6 million, cracks the top 20 of the world’s highest-paid athletes.

The difference: Those four baseball stars generate barely $10 million in combined endorsement income while the top earners in basketball, soccer, tennis and golf all individually bank at least $30 million from sponsors annually; eight of the 11 best-paid athletes come from those four sports.

READ MORE | Lionel Messi Claims Top Spot on Forbes’ 2019 List Of The World’s 100 Highest-Paid Athletes

Most of the athletes ranked above Trout follow a similar path: Reach the highest levels of a global sport, and marketers swarm with endorsement deals to pitch their wares around the world.

Barcelona soccer legend Lionel Messi leads the way on this year’s list with $127 million, including $35 million off the pitch from partners Adidas, MasterCard, PepsiCo and more. Messi translates into every language.

Messi is only the fourth athlete to land in the No. 1 spot over the past 19 years, joining Tiger Woods (12 times), Floyd Mayweather (4) and Cristiano Ronaldo (2).

Messi succeeds Mayweather, who failed to get in the ring for a pro bout over the past 12 months but is likely still counting last year’s $285 million haul, which he earned largely from his 2017 bout against UFC star Conor McGregor.


READ MORE | The World’s Highest-Paid Athletes


Messi is joined by fellow global soccer icons Cristiano Ronaldo ($109 million) and Neymar ($105 million) at the top this year. It is the first time that soccer players have ranked as the top three earners in sports since Forbes began tracking athlete earnings in 1990.

Elite stars in other global sports are also extremely marketable on any continent. Roger Federer ranks fifth with $93.4 million, including $86 million off the court.

Federer will turn 38 in August and is a dinosaur in tennis years. Yet Japanese apparel brand Uniqlo signed the 20-time Grand Slam winner in 2018 to a 10-year contract worth $300 million. Federer has a dozen sponsors looking to tap the cash-rich tennis fan demographic.

Basketball’s leading trio of LeBron James ($89 million), Stephen Curry ($79.8 million) and Kevin Durant ($65.4 million) rank seventh through ninth, having earned a combined $130 million beyond their respective playing salaries.

READ MORE | The NBA’s Highest-Paid Players 2019: LeBron James Leads With $89 Million

Their shoe deals, with Nike (James, Durant) and Under Armour (Curry), are by far the biggest endorsement for each player and dwarf what an MLB player can earn pitching baseball cleats and gear.

Sportswear brands, including Adidas, have used NBA stars in China for more than a decade to help establish a foothold in the world’s biggest market, sending big names like James and Durant there every summer on promotional tours. The NBA estimates 640 million people in China watched some kind of NBA programming during the 2017-18 season—that’s nearly twice the population of the U.S.

Golf is another sport that reaches almost every corner of the globe, and no golfer has benefited more than Tiger Woods: He has made $1.4 billion during his career from endorsements and appearance fees, more than 10 times his prize money, and his net worth is a staggering $800 million. Woods ranks 11th on this year’s athletes list with earnings of $63.9 million, including $54 million off the course.

Tiger roared back over the past 12 months with his first win in five years (Tour Championship) and his first major title in 11 years (The Masters). Last year, he signed an exclusive multi-year global content partnership with Discovery’s GolfTV. Head-to-head matches are part of the deal, and most will take place outside the U.S.

The 100 highest-paid athletes earned a combined $4 billion over the past 12 months, up 5% over the previous year. The increase jumps to 16% if you strip out the one-time stimulus of the 2017 Mayweather-McGregor fight. Endorsements fueled much of the gains, with sponsor-driven income at $987 million, up 12% from the previous year.

Overall, athletes from 10 sports and 25 countries made the top 100. Basketball (35 athletes) is the most dominant sport, and Americans (62) are the most dominant nationality.

READ MORE | Inside Serena Williams’ Plan To Ace Venture Investing

Tennis ace Serena Williams ranked 63rd with $29.2 million, including $25 million off the court. She is the only woman to crack the top 100 for the second time in three years. 

No female athletes qualified last year, when Williams was just returning to tennis after a 12-month layoff for her pregnancy and the birth of her daughter, Olympia. Williams is lining up her next act with a new clothing line and a venture capital fundfocused on investing in female and minority founders.

Our earnings include prize money, salaries and bonuses earned between June 1, 2018, and June 1, 2019. Endorsement incomes are an estimate of sponsorships, appearance fees and licensing incomes for the same 12-month period (click here for a more detailed methodology and the numbers behind the top 100).

-Kurt Badenhausen; Forbes Staff

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Lionel Messi Claims Top Spot on Forbes’ 2019 List Of The World’s 100 Highest-Paid Athletes

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Forbes today released its annual ranking of the World’s 100 Highest-Paid athletes, who collectively earned $4 billion over the last 12 months, up 5% from last year’s earnings of $3.8 billion. 

Lionel Messi was named the world’s highest-paid athlete for the first time, up from second place last year, with $127 million in total earnings.

Messi unseats Floyd Mayweather, who held the crown last year, and was the leader four times in seven years. Behind Messi is longtime rival Cristiano Ronaldo (No. 2), who earned $109 million between his salary and endorsements. 

READ MORE | How Rihanna Created A $600 Million Fortune—And Became The World’s Richest Female Musician

Serena Williams (No. 63) returned to the ranking, after no women appeared in 2018. Cost of admission to the 2019 list is the highest ever at $25 million, up $2.1 million from the previous year. Endorsement income experienced an increase of 12.5% to $987 million this year.

“The global impact of soccer is clearly reflected in earnings in 2019, with the top three athletes on the list being Messi, Ronaldo, and Neymar,” said Kurt Badenhausen, senior editor, Forbes Media.

“But basketball players continue to dominate the top 100 overall with 35 athletes on the list earning a total of $1.29 billion, with 72% of that income coming from salaries rather than endorsement deals.”

READ MORE | Artist, Icon, Billionaire: How Jay-Z Created His $1 Billion Fortune

The list of elite athletes consists of players from ten different sports. NBA stars lead with 35 basketball players among the top 100, down from 40 in 2018, headed by LeBron James (No. 8 with $89 million).

Football was the next most-represented sport with 19 players, followed by baseball with 15, and soccer with 12.

There are 25 different countries represented on this year’s World’s Highest-Paid Athletes list, up from 22 in 2018. Americans dominate the action with 62 athletes thanks to the sky-high salaries in the major sports leagues.

The U.K. has five athletes, France and Spain have three, while Brazil, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Germany, Serbia and Venezuela all have two.

Methodology: 

Our earnings include prize money, salaries and bonuses earned between June 1, 2018 and June 1, 2019. Endorsement incomes are an estimate of sponsorships, appearance fees and licensing incomes for the same 12-month period based on conversations with dozens of industry insiders. We do not deduct for taxes or agents’ fees, and we don’t include investment income.

The World’s Top 10 Highest-Paid Athletes in 2019:

RankAthleteSportSalary/Winnings ($mil)Endorsements ($mil)Total Earnings ($mil)
1Lionel MessiSoccer9235127
2Cristiano RonaldoSoccer6544109
3NeymarSoccer7530105
4Canelo AlvarezBoxing92294
5Roger FedererTennis7.48693.4
6Russell WilsonFootball80.5989.5
7Aaron RodgersFootball80.3989.3
8LeBron JamesBasketball365389
9Stephen CurryBasketball37.84279.8
10Kevin DurantBasketball30.43565.4

-Forbes Corporate Communications; Forbes Staff

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Health

Young women in Soweto, South Africa, say healthy living is hard. Here’s why

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Data from South Africa has shown that over two thirds of young women are overweight and obese. This predisposes them to non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. Most women are not exercising enough, and consumption of processed and calorie-dense foods and high amounts of sugar is common.

It was this knowledge that sparked the establishment of the Health Life Trajectories Initiative. It’s being run in South Africa, India, China and Canada and aims to provide interventions that can help young women stay healthy before, during and after pregnancy.

In South Africa, this randomised controlled trial will provide one-on-one support as well as peer group sessions to over 6000 young women. The idea is provide them with information, and to help them set and maintain goals for healthier lifestyles.

Researchers from the Medical Research Council and Wits University’s Developmental Pathways for Health Research Unit are running the South African arm of the study. We wanted to start by better understanding our target population – that is, young women aged between 18 and 24 living in Soweto.

READ MORE | Local Solutions Can Boost Healthier Food Choices In South Africa

Soweto is a large, densely populated urban township which comprises one third of Johannesburg’s population. Soweto is becoming rapidly urbanised, but the majority of people are still very poor and struggle to provide food for their families.

We conducted a series of focus group discussions and in depth interviews to unravel health behaviours, barriers and facilitators to wellbeing and health with young women from Soweto who had not yet had a child. We also asked them about what sorts of interventions they’d prefer to support and guide them.

The women offered important insights that showed it’s not enough to simply promote healthy eating and exercise without considering the very real environmental and structural constraints present in South Africa.

Barriers to healthy choices

The 29 participants spoke about many different facets of health. These included happiness and mental wellbeing, faith, social support, body image, and lifestyle behaviours.

They identified many barriers to healthy eating, among them the cost of and access to healthy food options. Some women also said they had little access to exercise facilities such as gyms and were afraid to exercise on the streets because they feared being assaulted or harassed. One woman said:

No, I don’t feel safe because we have drug addicts, traffic, women trafficking: it’s not safe for us to walk in the streets.

The women we interviewed painted a picture of an environment in which healthy behaviours are difficult to implement or sustain. One said:

Small businesses that are opening up in my community and they all sell fries, literally they just all sell fries…

Women told us that cheap and unhealthy fast foods are on every street corner: “bunny chow” – hollowed out bread stuffed with curry – vetkoek (a fried dough bread stuffed with different fillings) and fried chips are affordable and available within a few steps of most houses. As a result, women did not want to go out of their way to purchase healthier, more expensive foods.

Our interviewees also didn’t feel able to demand that healthier food be bought for their homes, because many were not contributing financially and were therefore not in a position to control food purchases. Women reported being financially dependant on relatives and male partners.

READ MORE | New Ways Of Thinking On Health, Arts And Humanities Are Emerging In Africa

Exercise

They also said that opportunities for physical activity were neither provided nor prioritised for women in Soweto. Some women said that a lack of facilities made it difficult for them to participate in any exercise, as they did not have access to gyms or fields to exercise.

Other women told us that there were gyms, sports grounds, parks, and even free aerobics classes at community halls in their area. However these facilities often get vandalised quickly, and can no longer be used. More importantly, they didn’t feel safe enough to exercise on the streets, perhaps by jogging or running. They also felt unsafe walking around in leggings or tights. Women were fearful of human trafficking, sexual assault, and violence – very real issues in this community.

Crucially, our research found that young women did not see obesity as a sufficient reason to change their behaviour. But they said they would be motivated to exercise and eat better if they were diagnosed with a non-communicable disease like diabetes.

This suggests that obesity has become normalised in South Africa – and this needs to be addressed.

Policy interventions

These findings are now being worked into our interventions, and we are cognisant of the contextual realities that may affect young women’s ability to change their lifestyles. We hope that this research, along with whatever findings emerge from our interventions, will inform policy makers and motivate them to implement necessary changes in this community.

Women in Soweto and in South Africa in general need support to live healthier lifestyles. This support needs to come from policy makers. If South Africa does not step up and support young women by providing them with access to safe spaces and affordable healthier foods, and by controlling the oversupply of unhealthy options, the country may not be able to curb its ever increasing rise in obesity and related non-communicable diseases.

-Alessandra Prioreschi: Associate Director and Researcher at the Developmental Pathways for Health Research Unit (DPHRU), University of the Witwatersrand

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