Until recently, the mention of food problems in Africa conjured up images of adults with emaciated face, and emaciated children with bloated bellies. This all too familiar imagery of famine still reappears in some areas hit by excessive drought or in conflict zones where starvation is used as a weapon to coerce the population.
Nevertheless, what is observed most on the African continent, in recent years, is a steady change in the kind of malnutrition, from under nutrition to over nutrition. The problems of overweight have greatly exceeded the problems of under weight. Hardest hit are the cities where one in four women and one in six men are affected. This explosion of obesity, which equally affects all classes, is essentially linked to the emergence of a nutritional transition (see the thematic file (Fr)), which can be defined as a progressive change in dietary habits, contemporary with a sharp drop in physical activity.
The cause is the sharp increase in the consumption of animal fat (meat, eggs and dairy products), vegetable fats and oils, access to manufactured cooking oil, and, in parallel, the introduction of numerous industrialised food products, with high fat, salt and sugar content, in addition to the traditional foods already very rich in carbohydrates (cereals).
Fatty products such as oil, mayonnaise, fried foods, salted products like cooking cubes, tomato concentrate, cooking salt and sweet products such as plain sugar and biscuits have overrun the stands of African markets. These modern shops are a far cry from the traditional rural markets. All the ingredients have come together to give a full-blooded high-calorie dietary model based on extra fat, extra sugar and extra salt!
This transition can be explained by the change of lifestyle with higher incomes, coupled with the massive growth of urbanisation, which reinforces the high decrease in physical activity with the generalisation of office jobs, the use of motorised transport and the proliferation of television and video games for children.
Indeed, we must remember that*:
"In 2009, Africa has surpassed one billion inhabitants, among whom 395 million (nearly 40 percent) lived in urban areas.»
"In 2050, the total population of African cities will rise up to 1.23 billion people or 60% of the total population and as much as the entire population of the continent today."
On top of this is a social atavism that considers overweight and obesity in Africa as outward signs of prosperity and good health. Especially in women whose corpulence indicates that her husband is looking after her properly. On the other hand, someone who is relatively thin and does not put on weight is suspected of being ill or having financial problems.
The State of the African cities 2010, UN Habitat, global report 2010.
Last update: 13/06/11