Africa’s Dual Burden.. Combating Undernutrition and Obesity

Soukaina Sghir
Soukaina Sghir
3 Min Read

Close to a billion people worldwide are affected by obesity, as estimated and published in the British medical journal, The Lancet, in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) on World Obesity Day. The report highlights an acceleration of this epidemic in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in Africa.

The “epidemic” has surged “faster than anticipated,” stated Professor Francesco Branca, Director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition for Health and Development, during a late February press conference. Initially projected to surpass the billion-person threshold around 2030, according to Professor Majid Ezzati from Imperial College London, one of the principal authors of the study conducted by The Lancet in collaboration with WHO.

According to this extensive study, between 1990 and 2022, obesity rates have quadrupled among children and adolescents and doubled among adults. The rates have nearly tripled among men and doubled among women. Even more alarming, in 2022, approximately 160 million children and adolescents (94 million boys and 65 million girls) were affected by this disease. Thirty years earlier, they numbered 31 million.

“Double Burden”

Moreover, some low- and middle-income countries now exhibit obesity rates surpassing many industrialized nations, particularly in Europe. Not only insufficient intake but also poor dietary quality: many low- and middle-income countries experience the “double burden” of undernutrition and obesity, particularly evident in Africa. While a portion of their population still lacks access to sufficient calories, another segment grapples with poor dietary habits.

In 2022, a WHO study warned about this “ticking time bomb” for public health, identifying ten particularly affected countries, most in Southern Africa: Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mauritius, Namibia, Seychelles, and South Africa. Additionally, in the northern region: Gabon, Mauritania, and Algeria, the latter holding the record for the highest number of obese individuals on the continent.

Addressing this dual burden necessitates comprehensive strategies targeting both undernutrition and obesity. Governments, international organizations, and communities must collaborate to improve access to nutritious foods, promote healthy lifestyles, and enhance public awareness regarding the risks associated with obesity. By addressing these intertwined challenges, Africa can pave the way towards a healthier future for its people.


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