Obesity’s levels in Africa are alarming

November 25, 2016

According to latest study on cases of obesity in Africa, more than 1 in ten Africans are obese and 3 out of ten are either obese or overweight.The rising level of obesity, along with diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other related diseases, is predicted to increase in mortality seen in most African countries when HIV AIDS wiped millions of people in Uganda, South Africa and other parts of the continent. A closer examination shows the picture is more complicated than that.Obesity rates have been increasing in African countries since the 1990s albeit slowly at first. And since the 2000s, deaths from disease like AIDS have steadily decreased in most African countries while life expectancy has consistently increased.It seems obesity’s negative impact on mortality may be outweighed by other factors favourably influencing life expectancy. In the Kenya, for instance, cholesterol, smoking, and physical activity levels have all improved in recent years. Overall, the rate of decline in mortality might have been even faster if it weren’t for the increasing prevalence of diabetes in the East African country.African researchers predict that the negative effects of increasing levels of obesity will soon outweigh the benefits from reductions in smoking and HIV AIDS related deaths.Improved medical treatment of some of the pathways linking obesity to mortality may have also blunted obesity’s negative impact.The impact of obesity may itself have been overestimated because its main adverse effects are experienced by a minority of the population. The best estimates of the association between body mass index and mortality suggest that the mortality risk from excess body weight increases from a BMI of 25 but isn’t substantial until BMI exceeds 35.Between 20% and 25% of the African population have BMIs in this range. While this is a significant proportion, it is nevertheless a minority. And the relationship between obesity and health appears to reverse in old age.

In old age, Africans who have low body weight are at higher risk of disability and mortality. But this reversal may be due to weight loss in old age due to disease.Indeed, body weight may not be a significant risk factor for mortality in itself and might simply be a surrogate marker for a particular lifestyle, or a particular diet, physical activity level, and genetic factors. If this were so, obese individuals would represent a heterogeneous group of Africans with high body weight for different reasons, some of which may not be strongly related to morbidity or mortality.The negative impact of recent obesity trends in Africa, including longer duration of living with obesity, may not have yet affected life expectancy in the continent of one billion people due to the lag time between the onset of obesity and disease.Also, the adverse impact of obesity may be due to both its severity and duration.As extreme obesity is becoming increasingly common in Africa and Africans are becoming overweight and obese earlier in life, it may be important for Africans to observe the deleterious impact of obesity on life expectancy. Mortality statistics of 2015 demonstrate, for the first time in over 10 years, a slight decline in life expectancy in some African countries. Malaria and HIV AIDS mortality rates have maintained a continual decline in Africa.Duration of exposure to obesity, and increasing proportions of the population with severe obesity suggest that obesity may in the future have a considerable impact on life expectancy across Africa. There are however also important reasons why obesity may not be strongly linked to life expectancy, except at the extremes of the weight distribution.Several scientific findings have found that obesity’s main adverse impact in Africa are the risk of Africans becoming disabled more than their life expectancies. Overall, it is possible that health and life expectancy gains could be even greater if it weren’t for the increasing prevalence of extreme obesity being witnessed in African countries with worse affected being South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria and Kenya.

Contador Harrison