FAO Regional Office for Africa

Obesity on the rise in West Africa

SDGs linked with curbing the health crisis

15 per cent of the sub-region’s population facing a worrying health crisis.

26 March 2019, Accra - With 52 million West Africans estimated to be living with the problem of obesity and overweight, the numbers are alarming with 15 per cent of the sub-region’s population facing a worrying health crisis.

The primary source of the challenge hinges on urban diets and lifestyles, prompting calls for stakeholders to highlight nutrition as a vital component in addressing the problem in a multi-sectoral collaboration. “Obesity and Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) are complex issues and require comprehensive and multi-stakeholder approach to root out the problem,” Mphumuzi Sukati, Senior Nutrition and Food Systems Officer of FAO, said at the opening of a Multi-Stakeholder Nutrition Working Groups Coordination and Mutual Accountability Consultative Dialogue in the ECOWAS Region held in Accra recently.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), working in partnership with World Health Organization and other United Nations agencies and development partners, makes strategic interventions in curbing global obesity and NCDs by supporting countries to reform their food systems, especially urban food systems Sukati further noted that the importance of nutrition is the critical building block between food production, good health and improved living standards. Sukati emphasized the multi-sectoral approach and efficient coordination to address the issue. He added, “For example, our partner ECOWAS and their Agriculture Policy (ECOWAP) 2015 advocates for the inclusion of nutrition in all agricultural activities at both regional and national levels.”

The three-day dialogue formed part of FAO’s multi-sectoral approaches to eliminating malnutrition in all its forms on the continent as enshrined in the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) decade of action. With the theme, Addressing the emerging overweight and obesity public health challenges in West Africa, the event focused on situation analysis and awareness raising; policy analysis and advice; multi-stakeholder engagement and dialogue; political economy analysis; and policy research and learning across countries.

Triple burden of malnutrition

The FAO State of Food and Nutrition Security of 2018 estimated that around 47.6 million people suffered from undernourishment in West Africa in 2017. The high level of undernourishment manifests itself in increased prevalence of stunting and wasting in children less than 5 years of age, at 31.9 per cent and 8.1 per cent respectively. These disturbing statistics pose major challenges for the continent to eliminate hunger by 2030, as part of its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda. Malnutrition is three-pronged, comprising of under-nutrition, over-nutrition and micronutrient deficiencies, oftenreferred as the “triple burden of malnutrition”. Characterized by overweight and obesity, over-nutrition fuels Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as Type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attacks and some forms of cancer. These diseases account for millions of deaths yearly in Africa, and puts an extra burden on the continent’s fragile health systems, especially in urban areas.

One-quarter of the world’s overweight children under-five years live in Africa

Almost half of the world’s children under five years that are overweight live in Asia and one quarter in Africa. Eight of the 20 countries of the world with the fastest rising rates of adult obesity are in Africa. While communicable, maternal, neonatal and nutritional conditions account for more than half of all deaths in low income-countries, NCDs are the leading cause of death globally, ranging from 37 per cent in low-income countries to 88 per cent in high-income countries. Preventing NCDs an economic imperative Preventing NCDs is not only important because of the human suffering they cause, but also because they contribute to poverty, hinder economic and social development, and constitute a major drain on public finances. The World Economic Forum (WEF) projects that NCDs will inflict losses of over USD 21 trillion in developing countries over the next two decades.