In Kenya, and Across Africa, an Unexpected Epidemic: Obesity, Type II Diabetes and Chronic Illnesses of the Western World

Once again the world is seeing the sad effects of diet and lifestyle changes as fast food invades a country.   It is part of a seismic shift in Africa as rapid economic growth transforms every aspect of life, including the very shape of its people.

Growing economies have led to growing waistlines. Obesity rates in sub-Saharan Africa are shooting up faster than in just about anywhere else in the world, causing a public health crisis that is catching Africa, and the world, by surprise.  Type II diabetes hardly existed in Africa decades ago but Type II diabetes is closely linked to obesity, and sub-Saharan Africa is in the midst of a “rapidly expanding diabetes epidemic,” according to a report last year in a medical journal, The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. After decades of focusing on infectious diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria, health systems are largely unprepared for dealing with the growing diabetes burden.

Many Africans are eating more junk food, much of it imported. They are also getting much less exercise, as millions of people abandon a more active farming life to crowd into cities, where they tend to be more sedentary. More affordable cars and a wave of motorbike imports also mean that fewer Africans walk to work.

It’s a sad commentary on how the change in dietary choices from whole real foods to processed and junk foods can change a nation in one generation. I ask, when will this madness stop? I’ve come to learn that the answer is multi faceted. It will stop when the profits of fast food and processed food diminishes, when all healthcare providers will raise awareness about food choices and outcomes and maybe even more importantly, when the general population is warned of the outcomes and is ready to made better choices.

Read the entire article published in the New York Times this past Sunday.

Photo is people eating at Burger King at the The Hub, an upscale shopping mall in the Karen neighborhood of Nairobi. The Hub has a variety of Western fast food options including Burger King and Dominos. Credit Andrew Renneisen for The New York Times


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