Sunday, November 27, 2022

Africa staggers under increase in obesity cases

In recent years, it has started to show that Africa, a continent once stricken with hunger and starvation, is now falling prey to obesity; a problem synonymous with the first world countries – with the likes of America leading the toll.

Sub-Saharan Africa has been largely affected and Botswana is not an exception! New lifestyles and old beliefs practiced by communities living in the area are believed to be the main reason most Africans have fallen prey to the disorder. Health experts already fear that health systems, already stretched by the AIDS scourge, malaria and poverty related diseases may snap under the additional burden of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and other conditions that may be caused by obesity.

A whooping 1 billion people are overweight worldwide, compared to 800 million who are undernourished. An estimated one third of African men and one quarter of African women are overweight, and the World Health Organisation predicts that it will rise to 41 percent and 50 percent respectively in the next 5-10 years. Although in Botswana details are scanty, it is clear that the country is quite affected, especially because not only does obesity affect large proportions of the population but also because it has begun to appear earlier in life.

In Botswana, as in many other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, it is believed that feeding your family with large portions of food at meal times is proof that one is wealthy and well off. So behind closed doors, not to mention in many fast-food restaurants, families indulge in large meals and gain weight and keep it as if it is a sign of pride that they are living happy lives. The neighbours enviously look on and comment that the chubby kids are well cared for!
However, many overweight Africans confess their fear to lose weight lest people conclude that they have AIDS. It is a particular pity in our society that the stigma attached to the scourge has become an impediment when it comes to weight control. A thin person is associated with the pandemic so many people would rather carry that weight than be scrutinized and suspected of having acquired the virus.

Another African belief that has seemingly convinced many women folk to stay overweight is the conviction that big is beautiful. Most African men believe in what they call African beauty: to them, big is beautiful and big is African. They prefer their women big and curvaceous. Many women, especially married ones, are doing it the traditional way, keeping their men happy by staying overweight!

Although culture and belief come into play, food also plays a very big role. Traditionally, Africans believe that a complete meal has meat as an accompaniment, so lunch and supper every day should always have meat. Vegetarian meals, they say, are for the poor.

Obesity also affects women living modern lives in the city because of acquired imported ways of living. Unlike the olden days, almost every woman living in the city is a working lady and, as such, very little time is dedicated to health care. The modern woman spends most of her day toiling at the work place; they can’t even manage to consider what they eat for lunch ÔÇô usually fatty fresh chips from food outlets like the KFC or Chicken-Licken. Spending much time at work also has influence on the type of food purchased. Usually, it’s the types of food that are easy to prepare and which might not necessarily be good foods. She, therefore, picks what is easy to prepare so she can quickly sit down to rest.

Research has also shown that, to some extent, the modern working woman spends her day riding to work in a taxi or her own car instead of walking. She uses the elevator instead of the stairs, then drives back home thus there is reduced physical activity. Even when getting home in the evening, she is likely to be too exhausted, stressed or drained to actually consider jogging or walking around to exercise.

Modern lifestyles play a significant role in the increasing rate of obesity in developing countries. Africans are also suffering from eating disorders that we see on T.V. Thus, Africans are now also exposed to stress and depression, making us eat just a little too much.

South Africa’s obesity level is believed to be second only to the United States and that is a terrible indictment for an African country. And research shows that South Africa’s situation is bound to worsen in coming years.

But, however, it should not be a surprise that Africa also has to deal with bulimia or anorexia nervosa among its young population.

So Africa better buckle up, the journey of eating disorders and food has just begun. Evidently, it is a long and rough one!


Read this week's paper