Africa Has A New Killer – Obesity

That we have a head start on coping with obesity means that the effects of it in other parts of the world may not be anywhere near as bad if we can challenge it early.


Obesity is not what springs to mind when you think about sub-Saharan Africa, more likely famine and disease will be what you think of. Though in reality the growth of obesity will pose a large risk to the health of the next generation.

After undergoing population growth, now over one billion it is now the other effects of the Western world which are having an impact. Things such as urbanization, change in working habits to more sedentary, and changing diets are now what will be facing the people of Africa.

One theory as to why there has been a growth in obesity is called the “thrifty gene hypothesis”, occurring in populations that have been exposed to periods of food shortages. The body copes by being able to better store fat for times when there is little food. Though as this problem disappears the gene overdoes its job as food is readily available and such fat stores are not needed. Although there have been attempts by geneticists to find the gene though have not been able to find anything.

The other option is that cities in Africa are some of the fasted growing, the change in food processes from people growing their own to buying food coupled with the spread of chains such as McDonalds mean that they are no longer eating as healthily.

Jenny Cresswell, chief author of the Lancet study, said: “Once people move to the city, their activity levels go down. They are no longer able to grow their own food. Instead they tend to rely on street hawkers and eat foods high in fat and sugar.

“Today, obesity in Africa is associated with wealth: the wealthier you are, the more likely you are to be overweight. But as populations get richer, it is expected that the picture will swing round and obesity will become associated with the poor.”

In 2006 the UN said that for the first time global deaths due to excess overtook those from deficiency. Soon enough that may also apply to the countries once ravaged by famine in Africa.

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