Africa: Undernutrition and Obesity a ‘Double Burden’ in Africa – WHO Study

According to a World Health Organization study published by The Lancet medical journal, obesity has increased alarmingly in low and middle income countries, particularly in Africa. World Obesity Day, held on 4 March, aims to raise awareness around what the WHO describes as an “epidemic”.

While some of the populations in Africa still face undernutrition, others no longer have this problem, but their diet is of poor quality and obesity is on the rise, according to a WHO study released last week by The Lancet medical journal.

In 2022, the WHO already warned of a “time bomb” for public health, pointed to ten countries particularly affected by weight gain, most of them in southern Africa: Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mauritius, Namibia, Seychelles and South Africa.

But also, further north: Gabon, Mauritania and Algeria, which holds the record for the highest number of obese people on the continent.

The chronic and complex illness is accompanied by a greater risk of death from heart disease and certain cancers.

Obesity is also a major risk factor for diabetes. And there are countries with higher prevalence rates, particularly in North Africa and South Africa.

Obesity primarily affects people living in urban areas, although rural areas are now also affected. The finger is pointed at junk food and a sedentary lifestyle.

Colette Azandjeme, a professor of public health and nutritionist at the Mother and Child Hospital in Cotonou, Benin, believes that one of the causes of obesity is “the nutritional transition that has seen our lifestyles change and become more westernised.

“We’re moving from a much more traditional diet to a Europeanised, energy-dense diet. We’re exposed to increasingly processed and ultra-processed foods,” she says.

At the same time, our lifestyles have become more sedentary: “there is very little physical activity to compensate for this,” says Azendjeme.

“Over time, we’ve lost the habit of walking a lot. There are more motorbikes, more cars.

“We sit in front of the television for longer. We adopt activities that are in offices: in sales, in commerce, where we sit for longer periods of time,” she explains.

The World Obesity Day organisers say that an estimated 1.9 billion people will be living with obesity by 2035.

Read or Listen to this story on the RFI website.

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