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Shocking rise in obesity levels in urban Africa

The analysis shows increases in obesity levels in all 24 countries over the 25 year period. The increases were statistically significant in 17 countries. Based on the latest surveys we found that four countries had an obesity prevalence that was above 20% while the rest ranged between 10% and 19% among urban women of reproductive age in the countries studied.

Comparing these data with earlier surveys it is clear that obesity levels among urban women have worsened in the past two-and-a-half decades.

Our study found significant differences between Africa countries. In the latest survey Egypt has the highest prevalence of obesity by far. Two out of every five Egyptians (39%) are obese, followed by Ghana at 22%.

Egypt and Ghana also experienced a significant increase in obesity over the past 25 years — from 34% to 39% (13% increase) in Egypt and 8% to 22% in Ghana (65% increase). The increase in obesity doubled in Kenya, Benin, Niger, Rwanda, Ivory Coast and Uganda, while Zambia, Burkina Faso, Mali, Malawi and Tanzania experienced a three-fold increase.

While the prevalence of obesity in these countries is lower than Egypt’s or Ghana’s, the rate of acceleration is alarming. Should these trends persist, obesity levels in these countries may reach the levels of those in Egypt and Ghana.

Given the magnitude of the increase in obesity levels among urban women in the countries studied, we argue strongly that governments should take urgent steps to address the problem.

There is a direct link between obesity and the rise in non-communicable diseases. Addressing obesity will be an important step towards curbing the surge of lifestyle diseases that the continent is experiencing. It’s estimated that their toll is likely to surpass infectious diseases by 2030.

This calls for deliberate policies and interventions geared to encouraging people living in urban areas to adopt healthy diets, increase physical activity and reduce weight.

Strategies should include policy interventions to address over-consumption of unhealthy diets. This may include fiscal food policies, mandatory nutrition panels on the formulation and reformulation of manufactured foods, implementation of food and nutrition labelling, restricting marketing and advertising bans of unhealthy foods and making healthy food accessible.

Greater physical activity can be encouraged through urban planning, transport and organisational policies coupled with the provision of facilities such as public parks. Such interventions have been applied in the developed countries with some measure of success.

 

By Dickson Amugsi . This article was first published by The Conversation

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