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Perceptions of Africa

For many years, western countries have been conditioned to associate Africa with starvation. That is not without reason. The continent has been the victim of horrific famines, natural disasters and drought. Our television screens have been filled with images of hungry children, suffering the effects of malnutrition. Charities have raised sums in the billions of dollars to help aid relief in the worst-hit regions. However, Africa is a large and diverse continent. Sometimes, a western view encourages a belief that it is a homogenous region. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Africa is a continent made up of 54 different countries. There are diverse climates, cultures and a wealth of rich history. Not everywhere suffers from a lack of food either. In fact, several African countries face a new crisis. That is the problem of obesity.


Several African countries have experienced a significant growth in wealth in the past decade. Countries such as Ghana have witnessed burgeoning middle-class thanks to the wealth generated by offshore oil. The economy has grown 7 percent a year since 2010. That is a remarkable growth rate for any country. With this new wealth has come an influx of western diets that were not previously available. Fast food chains have popped up across the major cities to feed those who are flocking to this new-found luxury. People have flocked to urban centres to find work in the fast-growing economy. The flavours that were once witnessed on the streets of its capital Accra, such as stews, have been replaced. Instead, vendors now sell fried chicken, doughnuts and an arrange of items that are high in calories.

Fast Food

In a country that not long ago witnessed some extreme poverty, there is a pride in the ability to purchase fast food. Once seen as a luxury item, only to be consumed on special occasions, it has now become a regular feature in many peoples diets. The appearance of a gut does not carry the same taboo as in other parts of the world. In fact, it can often be an emblem of affluence, a sign that a person can afford such a diet.


The World Health Organization has warned about the levels of obesity in Africa. They warn that obesity in many countries in the regions is viewed as a sign of prosperity. “Overweight and obesity, particularly in urban settings, are major risk factors for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attacks and a variety of cancers.


“There is a common misconception that obesity and other noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) only occur among the wealthy. Poorer populations are experiencing high double-burdens of infectious and chronic diseases. Additionally, sub-Saharan women are far more likely to be obese than men affecting women’s health issues, pregnancy, maternal and infant health.”

Obesity in Africa

Obesity in Africa is a problem which has emerged in the past number of years. The number of obese or overweight people has risen in developed nations to 1 billion in under three decades. South Africa is a country which typifies this trend. The obesity level is now nearly double the average of the global rate. More than a quarter of girls and almost one in five boys in South Africa are overweight. Some experts believe that diseases caused by obesity such as cancers, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes could overtake HIV and tuberculosis as the main killers in South Africa.


A key factor that has played a role in obesity in Africa has been the rise in supermarkets. This has moved the consumption of food away from fresh local produce towards processed goods. Younger generations spurn the more traditional foods in favour of a westernized diet. The result of this is an expanding waste-line.


Improved public infrastructure has also assisted in the rise of obesity in Africa. There has been an increase in car ownership, while public transport has improved in major urban centres. As the economy develops in many African countries, people are moving away from manual work to a more sedentary lifestyle.


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