Obesity is on the rise in Africa

Posted on May 14, 2016 12:00 am

More Africa children are now severely obese, a new study into childhood health has found.Researchers whom I spoke to said their findings suggested previous studies had underestimated the problem, and its extent may be even greater than current figures show. The numbers on how many African children have severe obesity have never been fully established but the latest findings suggest the continent has underestimated the issue. Affecting many countries in the continent, the double burden of malnutrition describes the prevalence of both under nutrition and over nutrition in the same place at the same time. It is having a devastating impact on individuals and African economies, one of the researchers told me.The existence of this growing health problem in Africa was confirmed by researchers on their study that has serious implications. Researchers drew on a sample of children to examine risk factors for stunting, a sign of chronic under nutrition, which affects height and brain development, being underweight and obesity. While the prevalence of under nutrition in young children decreased over the past six years in Sub Saharan Africa, more children are becoming overweight.Stunted or underweight children tended to have a lower birth weight, an underweight or short parent, and a mother who never received formal education.In the statistics I obtained, likelihood of being stunted is higher among children in rural areas.The data I obtained shows that children were more likely to be overweight or obese if they were three to five years, were male, had overweight or obese parents, and had fathers with high formal education.The authors looked at the children who were both stunted and overweight. Stunted children were significantly more likely to be overweight than children of a healthy height.

The research reveal inconsistent trends in the prevalence of being stunted and overweight, but associated risk factors were being young, being weaned after the age of four months, having short mothers or living in rural areas with Southern African countries being the most affected.The double burden of malnutrition in Africa is complex and wide reaching. It can occur in the same household and also within the same individual, either at the same time, or during different stages of a person’s life.It’s concerning that stunted children are also most at risk of being overweight or obese. There are serious potential consequences for their future health as well as the broader financial and societal costs of managing the predicted associated rise in non-communicable diseases especially in Central African countries.While a variety of factors could account for the rising levels of obesity in East African countries including increased national wealth and availability of processed foods, the researchers told your blogger that more research is required to understand the causes.One of them told me that there’s need for an overhaul of policy related to these areas. There are major, policy implications for researcher’s findings and an urgent need to modify current interventions and strategies to fit this condition.Another researcher was quick to point out that African countries won’t adequately tackle the double burden of malnutrition unless under and over nutrition are dealt with as part of the same problem.Unlike overweight and obese children, children with severe obesity require specialist care and have the highest risk of additional health problems. I also learned from the study that failure to treat these children will have huge implications for the individual and African countries healthcare system in the years to come running into billions of dollars.Currently there are not enough paediatric obesity services across the continent to look after these children in Africa which poses the biggest risk to the challenge of obesity in the continent.

Contador Harrison