Home » Obesity Threatens Women’s Health in East Africa
East Africa Featured Health News News

Obesity Threatens Women’s Health in East Africa

The rising number of obese and overweight women in East Africa could present a new health burden to families, according to revelations from two separate health reports in Kenya and Rwanda.

According to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2022 released this week, 45 percent of women aged 20-49 years are currently obese or overweight, up from 38 percent in 2014.

A separate report in Rwanda showed that the number of people with obesity has grown from 14 percent in 2013 to 18.6 percent, blamed on lifestyle habits like poor diets, higher alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking.

Rwanda’s survey found that obesity was more prevalent among women. Rwanda’s overweight women increased from 19 percent in 2013 to 26 percent in 2022.

In Kenya, where the fertility rate has reduced by half to just about three children per woman since 2008 (attributed to improved access to reproductive health services, education and wealth), a rise in obesity cases could dilute any voluntary decisions on births and hurt wealth saved by families due to a surge in non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Among younger women, aged 15-19 years, just about one in five is obese or overweight, a slight increase from the 14 percent reported in 2014.

More than half of adult women in Kenya’s urban areas are overweight, compared to 39 percent of those living in rural areas. Also, women with at least secondary education are twice more likely to be obese than those with no education, the study found.

Next pandemic

Patrick Amoth, the acting director general at the Ministry of Health, said this could be Kenya’s “next pandemic” as the increasing prevalence of obesity among older women points to a higher risk of chronic non-communicable diseases.

“We really need to work with our teenagers to inculcate good eating habits and frequent physical activity so that we can avoid the burden of obesity and overweight,” Dr Amoth said during the unveiling of the survey findings on July 3. Ivan Butera, Rwanda’s Minister of State in the Ministry of Health, said NCDs have overtaken infectious diseases and maternal and child health as the leading cause of mortality in the past four years.

According to the World Health Organisation, obesity and overweight increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart illnesses and stroke. Such people also have problems being productive and have reduced fertility. Other health risks associated with the conditions are diabetes, muscle and nerve illnesses.

Gerald Luzindana, a nutritionist in Kigali, said unchecked lifestyle habits are responsible for the rise in NCDs.

Although the number of heavy alcohol drinkers in Rwanda has reduced from 23.5 percent in 2013 to 15.2 percent in 2022, the survey shows an increase in the general number of people who drink alcohol.

The number of tobacco smokers reduced from 14 percent to seven percent in the past nine years.

In Nairobi, the survey done by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics showed that the growing number of overweight and obese women is largely driven by poor dietary choices, with only 49 percent of women consuming minimum dietary diversity – at least five of the 10 defined food groups in a day. About 35 percent of women were found to consume unhealthy foods and twice as much to consume sweet beverages, which increase the risk of overweight.

The survey exposed poor dietary habits of many Rwandans, showing that only a few eat vegetables and fruits.

Source: The East African