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Nigeria facing a double edge public health challenge with obesity problem – study

A major study has highlighted the scale of the obesity problem in Nigeria, with a significant risk of death and disease attached to weight gain.

A state by state comparison in the study by WellNewMe, a health technology company in Nigeria, shows states like Anambra (52 percent), Lagos (49 percent), Rivers (47 percent), Delta (44 percent), Imo (43 percent) and Akwa Ibom (42 percent) have female populations where nearly half of which are either overweight or obese. These states also happen to be among the largest sub-economies in the country.

The researcher, Obi Igbokwe, chief executive officer of WellNewMe, said the worry is that Nigeria, like many Sub-Saharan African countries, is facing a double edge public health challenge with a rising number of overweight adults, who now outnumber large segments of the population.

“They face problems associated with undernutrition. This dual burden will mean combating both malnutrition and the risks associated with obesity, such as cardiovascular disease, which will prove to be a major test for its health system.”

The study revealed that age seems to be another determinant when it comes to the weight of women, with women in their forties (42 percent) five times more likely to overweight or obese than women in their late teenage years (8 percent).

The research also found that excessive weight gain during pregnancy and postpartum retention of pregnancy weight gain are significant risk factors for later obesity in women. Additionally, maternal health can have a significant impact on the in utero environment and, thus, on fetal development and the health of the child later in life.

Data from the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) Program found that nearly a third of Nigerian women were either overweight or obese in 2018.

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According to the researcher, this was up from the figure registered in 2013, when about just under a quarter of them (24.7 percent) were considered overweight or obese.

“There has been a very noticeable trend in the upward trajectory for the percentage of women considered obese or overweight over the last fifteen years preceding the 2018 survey.

“When it comes to the geographical distribution, women residents in the south of the country are more likely to be overweight or obese than that resident in the north.

“Women resident in the South-South geopolitical zone, which had the highest rate of overweight or obese women (43 percent), were almost three times more likely than women in the North East (15 percent) to be overweight or obese,” he said.

According to Igbokwe, obesity is an increasingly worrying health concern as many people in sub-Saharan Africa are adopting a lifestyle more commonly found in the west that involves eating excessive amounts of cheap high-calorie food and spending a lot of time sitting down at desks, on sofas, or in cars.

“The growing obesity rates left unchecked are going to create all the health issues and the health systems of sub-Saharan Africa are going to be a lot less able to cope. Besides causing obvious physical changes, it can lead to a number of serious and potentially life-threatening conditions including type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and some types of cancer, such as breast cancer and bowel cancer.”

“There is also a clear link between obesity and complications from the current coronavirus pandemic, with a few studies showing that being overweight puts people at greater risk of severe complications and death from Covid-19.”

“Obesity can also affect a person’s quality of life and lead to psychological problems, such as depression and low self-esteem,” he said.

The research further said that weight goes with wealth in Nigeria today. The women in the wealthiest household (46 percent) are five times more likely to be overweight or obese than those in the lowest income bracket (9 percent).

“In many parts of Nigeria, there is a cultural element to this – richer and more successful women are often expected to be fatter. But part of this is also due to the pursuit of a lifestyle of people in the affluent nations of the world like the US and the UK.

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