Association for Free Research and International Cooperation

The scale of obesity in Africa

13.07.2019
Article from AFRIC Editorial
The presence of increasing hunger and food insecurity in Africa has led to many governments focusing on seeking ways to curb hunger and gaining food security, thereby missing out on other pertinent problems plaguing the continent like diabetes and obesity. Focused on ending hunger for decades now, most African states have largely failed to address a rising obesity outbreak that could soon become the greater public health crisis, experts say.

According to the 2017 Global Nutrition Report, a quarter of the world’s 41 million overweight children under five live in Africa.  This figure is thought to have nearly doubled on the continent in the last twenty years. The World Health Organisation, WHO, indicates that noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, most of which are obesity-related, are expected to become the biggest killer in Africa by 2030.

According to WHO, over 30 percent of adults in Africa are overweight, with obesity rates nearing 10 percent even in very poor countries like Sierra Leone and Liberia.

What is Obesity?

The Oxford Learners Dictionaries defines Obesity as the quality or fact of being very fat, in a way that is not healthy. The World Health Organisation defines overweight and obesity as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health.  The rates of Obesity are fast growing in Africa, as well as in other parts of the world. Overweight and obesity, especially in urban settings, are major risk factors for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attacks and a variety of cancers.

Causes of Obesity

Often at times, people have been fooled by the notion that obesity and other non-communicable diseases (diseases that are not transmissible directly from one person to another) occur only among rich people. Over the years it has been speculated that diseases like Obesity will occur mostly in high income economies like those in the West. But today in Africa, the prevalence of obesity seems to be surpassing even malnutrition that is thought to be one of the continent’s greatest challenges. Questions are being raised as to why a disease that is related to gaining excess fat or weight is on the rise in a continent where people often suffer from hunger. Here are a few causes for the prevalence of obesity in Africa:

Increased Consumption of High-Fat and High-Sugar Foods

Usually in a typical suburb of Africa, people eat just to be full or satisfied, not worrying about the diet or the content of what they eat. In most African societies nowadays, especially in urban areas, there is the presence of imported high fat products and high sugar foods such as beverages. These foods are thought to come at very low and affordable prices that prompt the local population to go for them, not really being aware of the content and the effects on health.

  • Increased Consumption of Highly-refined and Processed Foods

Highly processed foods have become increasingly affordable and available worldwide, which is one of the primary drivers of obesity. To make things even more complicated, in Africa people are usually not aware that these foods are unhealthy. Furthermore, people do not necessarily see being overweight as a problem.

  • Decreased Consumption of Fruits, Vegetables, Nuts and Legumes

The presence of a lot of fast foods has made people lose the good habit of eating fruits and vegetables. It is now common place in Africa, especially in the urban areas for people to go for canned food rather than getting the natural foods.

  • Increased Sedentary Lifestyles

The advent of technology has made people lazy and get less involved in physical activities. People, mostly the youth will mostly sit at home manipulating their mobile phones, computers or play video games, rather than go out for an outdoor activity such as walks or games. Sedentary lifestyles are affected by changing modes of transportation, types of work and increasing rates of urbanization. This has in its own way contributes to the upsurge of obesity in the continent.

It has also been observed that school meal programs in West Africa, for example, are usually focused on making sure children get enough food but sometimes have no standards for quality.

Ways to Limit or Prevent Obesity

Like the popular saying goes: Prevention is better than cure, obesity as well as its related non-communicable diseases can be prevented. The nature of one’s environment and surroundings are very useful in shaping how the person lives. If more focus is given to healthier foods and regular physical activities, then the prevalence of obesity will experience a decline in the continent. At the level of an individual, one can always reduce the intake of total fats and sugars, consume fruits, vegetables, legumes, as well as whole grains and nuts regularly, and indulge in regular physical activity. The food industry for its part can play a significant role in promoting healthy diets by reducing the fat, sugar and salt content of processed foods, ensuring that healthy and nutritious choices are available and affordable to all consumers just to name but these. Furthermore, aid organizations that address hunger should adapt their existing programs to also prevent obesity

What Some African Governments are Doing to Fight against the Prevalence of Obesity

Some African countries are not backing out in seeing into it that the rising rate of obesity is curbed. A country like South Africa for example is not unrelenting in its efforts to fight against the disease. The South African Parliament in December 2017 passed a bill to implement a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. The sugary drinks tax that went into effect on April 1, 2018 and officially called the “health promotion levy”, seeks to reduce South Africans’ sugar consumption in an effort to control the high obesity rate.

If more African states follow in the footsteps of South Africa by implementing such taxes, then the prevalence of obesity will drop in less than no time in the continent. Health is wealth, as such Africa is in need of a healthy population or manpower to drive the continent’s economic activities.

Article from AFRIC editorial

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