Is the ‘African’ mentality about weight enabling child obesity on the continent?

Presently, Africa has almost twice the number of obese children under five years old than it did in 1990, according to a report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) through the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity (ECHO). The report, which took two years to compile, reveals that one quarter (28 percent) of overweight and obese children are found in Africa and urges governments to implement and intensify measures in combatting the consequent health risks.

Unhealthy environmental practices in countries across the globe – with more cases in developing countries – have been identified as the driving force behind the prevalence of obesity in children, as economies tend to encourage the consumption of unhealthy foods and beverages, especially through the marketing of these class of products.

Additionally, ECHO notes that being obese or overweight is negatively impactful on the quality of lives of children physically and psychologically. In the long run, these children end up as adults with obesity who are at risk of a range of illnesses brought on by their condition and then present social and economic burdens to their environments.

ECHO thus recommends six measures that governments should consider in order to end child obesity. These include taxing the markets of unhealthy foods as a means to restrict their sales and promote healthy eating and promoting physical activity among children. The commission equally calls on non-governmental organisations and the private sector to lend their support to the cause of contributing to a healthy global environment.

A critical observation made by ECHO is the fact that obesity in children is not a fault of theirs. Authors of the report stress that the issue has never received public priority as a health problem, given the fact that most individuals and families simply view it as a lifestyle choice. This choice is evident in the rate of urbanisation and the cultural predispositions of poorer societies as concerns children’s diets.

Different cultures such as those that exist in Africa see obese children pegged as healthy ones, especially if they come from a privileged home. Also, since the decision of what and when to eat lie predominantly in the hands of the adults in charge of the children, it is easier to achieve this objective of projecting kids as ‘well-fed’ by virtue of their size.

Not surprisingly, these same cultural practices affect the amount of exercise that children get in the form of physical activities. Urbanisation automatically sees a shift in lifestyle, as children are being driven around to their locations, whether through private or public means. This largely prevents them from getting the most basic and easily accessible form of exercise – walking, in addition to sugary and fatty diets.

Despite all of the aforementioned problems, ECHO has adviced that the solutions do not lie solely in a dieting and exercising. A collective change of attitude towards the issue from individuals and groups would go a long way in getting rid of the “exploding nightmare in the developing world” that is child obesity.

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