Nine of the 10 countries with the highest expected increases in obesity are low- or lower-middle-income countries in Africa and Asia
The prevalence of obesity among children and adults is predicted to rise rapidly during 2020-2035, especially in Global South regions like Africa, according to a new report by the World Obesity Federation, a global organisation working to reduce, prevent and treat obesity.
The prevalence of obesity among children in Africa will see a major increase — 14 per cent from 5 per cent. For African women, the prevalence of obesity is anticipated to rise to 31 per cent from 18 per cent (nearly a third of all women) by 2035, according to the World Obesity Atlas 2023.
The annual increase in child obesity rate in Africa is highest in Angola (8.5 per cent), followed by Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, where the rate is 8.4 per cent.
World Obesity Atlas 2023 also warned that more than half of the world’s population could be overweight or obese by 2035, with childhood obesity predicted to more than double.
The document was published just ahead of World Obesity Day, observed March 4, 2023. It will be presented at a high-level policy event March 6 to United Nations policymakers, member states and civil society.
The Atlas showed that obesity levels are rising fastest in low and lower-middle-income countries. Nine of the 10 countries with the highest expected increases in obesity are low- or lower-middle-income countries in Africa and Asia, the report stated.
It also warned that without urgent and coordinated action, rates of obesity will continue to rise.
The Atlas confirms earlier reports about the ‘obesity pandemic’ in the Global South. One in five adults and one in 10 children and teenagers are projected to be obese by December 2023 in 10 high-burden African countries if no robust measures are taken to reverse the trends, a World Health Organization (WHO) analysis had shown last year.
The report released last week also provided an obesity-non-communicable disease (NCD) Preparedness Ranking. This ranking gives an indication of how well or poorly countries are prepared to address the rise in obesity and to deal with the consequences.
African and eastern Mediterranean countries were ranked the worst prepared while Europe and the western Pacific were considered best prepared.
The report highlighted Niger, Papua New Guinea, Somalia, Nigeria and Central African Republic as countries that are among the least prepared to cope with the growing burden of non-communicable diseases.
According to the document, the annual economic impact in the African region is likely to reach over $50 billion per year by 2035 or 1.6 per cent of the region’s gross domestic product. This is measured by estimating healthcare costs, economic productivity loss and premature retirement or death.
The Atlas uses body mass index (BMI) for its assessments, a number calculated by dividing a person's weight in kilograms by their height in metres squared. A BMI score over 25 is overweight and a BMI greater than 30 is considered obesity, according to WHO guidelines.
The World Obesity Federation called for comprehensive national action plans to be developed to prevent and treat obesity and support those affected.
Louise Baur, president of the World Obesity Federation said: “This year’s Atlas is a clear warning that by failing to address obesity today, we risk serious repercussions in the future. It is particularly worrying to see obesity rates rising fastest among children and adolescents. Governments and policymakers around the world need to do all they can to avoid passing health, social, and economic costs on to the younger generation.”
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