The Heavy Burden of Obesity in Africa

Weight gain has been accelerating across the globe due to a myriad of factors including a growing economy, fast food expansion and a shift towards more sedentary living. Worldwide, 39% of adults were overweight and 13% were obese in 2016. Since obesity rates are not disbursed equally throughout the world, some countries (like the U.S.) are noted for carrying more weight than others, while famine and malnutrition continue to dominate the headlines on Africa. However, despite receiving less coverage, obesity rates are creeping up alarmingly across the developing world.

Last week the New York Times published an article describing the repercussions of weight gain in African countries. In fact, the introduction of processed foods combined with economic growth, have caused Africa’s obesity rates to soar quickly and intensely. In the past 36 years, the prevalence of adult obesity jumped 1400% in Burkina Faso and more than 500% in Ghana, Benin, Ethiopia and Togo. And the consequences are quickly accumulating.

When years ago in Kenya, a diabetes practice would have failed, today it is prosperous and overcrowded. The Lancet Journal on Diabetes & Endocrinology revealed last year that diabetes prevalence in Africa has increased a worrying 129% since 1980. It also estimated that in 2015, the economic burden of diabetes for Sub-Saharan Africa was US$19.45 billion and will likely increase to US$35.33-59.32 billion by 2030.

While many people in developing countries still experience widespread hunger due to conflict, drought or poverty, rising overweight and obesity rates are putting a double burden on health systems and economies. In a step to stem the tide, the South African government recently passed a bill to implement taxes on sugary drinks, which has demonstrated some success in reducing consumption and obesity rates elsewhere. The WHO is urging governments and the global community to act fast and boldly in the face of this dangerous epidemic.

photo credit: WHO

Alyssa GovindanThe Heavy Burden of Obesity in Africa