Surprising as this may sound, malnutrition and obesity are co-existing in the same households, says a global study on Africa’s feeding habits.
The study titled, Nourished: How Africa can build a future free from hunger and malnutrition, says that it is not uncommon to find undernutrition and obesity existing within a country, community or even household.
In such a situation, one household can have a stunting child co-existing with overweight adults, particularly women, or a stunting child living alongside an overweight one.
This is because hunger in childhood trains the body to hoard fat, so the poorest are more prone to obesity as adults, technically ensuring three manifestations of malnutrition: Undernourishment, micronutrient deficiency and obesity.
According to the study, urban and to some extent rural children are increasingly exposed to high-fat, high-sugar, high-salt, energy-dense processed foods, which tend to cost less but have lower nutrient quality.
“Of particular concern is the rise in the number of children who are both stunted and overweight in Africa, as healthcare systems remain ill-equipped to manage malnutrition in all its forms,” states the study published by Malabo Montpellier Panel, a group of experts.
The prevalence of overweight children aged between seven and 11 years increased from four per cent in 1990 to seven per cent in 2011 and is expected to reach 11 per cent in 2025.
Childhood obesity and diseases such as Type 2 diabetes has been escalated by dietary patterns and lower levels of physical activity.
“Changes in eating habits such as the consumption of cheap and nutrient poor, highly processed foods, reduced physical workload due to increasingly deskbound economic activities, have increased levels of obesity faster, so that undernutrition has been reduced,” states the study.
“Several causes contribute to this malnutrition complex, and one is the rapid food system transition in some middle-income African countries.”
Africa now has the fastest growing middle class in the world. It has tripled over the past 30 years. In East and South Africa, 55 per cent of the middle class is rural.
Processed food, which one of the main causes of obesity, accounts for 70 to 80 per cent of middle-class food expenditure, with similar shares in rural and urban areas.
Malnutrition, associated with unhealthy diets and unhealthy lifestyles, now represents the number one risk factor in the global disease burden.
However, Rwanda is among seven African countries that successfully reduced malnutrition levels between 2000 and 2016.