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Poverty And Paradox Of Obesity In Nigeria



Dr Khaliru Alhassan. Health Minister

BEING thin used to be linked with poverty, while obesity was associated with affluence. But time has changed all that to the disadvantage of the poor. Obesity has been put on the reverse gear, not by divine arrangement, but by man’s efforts to undermine nature’s arrangement. And in the middle of the crisis are the poor, the downtrodden ones often looked down upon by the society.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) “worldwide obesity has more than doubled since 1980.” The world body explained that “in 2014, more than 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and older, were overweight”, adding that “of these, over 600 million were obese.”

But when WHO said “most of the world’s population live in countries where overweight and obesity kills more people than underweight,” Nigeria, perhaps, may just be among those countries.

Overweight and obesity are both labels for ranges of weight that are greater than what is generally considered healthy for a given height. The terms also identify ranges of weight that have been shown to increase the likelihood of certain diseases and other health problems.

According to the Centre For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “for adults, overweight and obesity ranges are determined by using weight and height to calculate a number called the ‘body mass index’ (BMI). BMI is used because for most people, it correlates with their amount of body fat.”
While an adult whose BMI is between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight, an adult who has a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese.

President, Nutrition Society of Nigeria (NSN), Prof. Ngozi Nnam, a professor of Public Health Nutrition, blamed the trend of overweight and obesity among the poor on over-reliance on carbohydrates such as yam, rice, garri among others. She blamed it on lack of information on nutrition to direct them on what to eat.

The nutritionist cautioned against the trend, adding that overweight and obesity were capable of kick starting non-communicable diseases (NCD) like hypertension, diabetes and cancer.

Nnam called for urgent solution to arrest the trend, calling on government to start awareness programmes on nutrition. On what those who are facing the challenge of obesity can do, Nnam said they should consume more of soups than carbohydrates when eating carbohydrate meals. She further called for balanced diets which consists of protein and fruits.

There are fears that overweight and obesity among the poor will be a double jeopardy for Nigeria to handle, as the poor do not have the financial wherewithal to seek medical care when faced with NCDs that may result. Although obesity is put at 30 per cent in Nigeria, those in the know say they mostly the poor, who also make 70 percent of Nigeria’s population.

Several factors like inadequate exercise, sedentary lifestyle among others has been blamed for overweight and obesity. But Co-founder of Environmental Rights Action and Chief Executive of Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Nnimmo Bassey, an environmental activist, said the trend could be as result of the rising number of fast food restaurants and increasing use of fertiliser.

Bassey, who is against Genetically Modified (GM) products, said: “Reports from a nutrition conference held in Lagos, Nigeria, late in 2013, claimed that 30 per cent of Nigerians are obese. They also reported that one in every three children in Abuja was obese, while one in every five persons in the South-South is obese.

“You would be pardoned to think that the traffic jams on our streets are not caused by our having too many automobiles on the roads but rather that we are too fat and are thus squeeze each other for space. When I posed the question to a nutritionist in one of our hospitals to clarify if things were as dire and as alarming as that, the response was that the ratio might actually be in the range of 20-30 percent nationally. The global figure is one in three persons, according to the UK Think Tank.

“Will things get better? Well, it depends on the direction of support given to the producers of wholesome foods in Nigeria. If we depend on industrial farms that rely on mono-cropping, chemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides, we can be sure that small-scale farmers will be squeezed out of the sector. We can also be sure that the increasing number of shopping plazas that stock imported foods including vegetables and poorly-regulated products will lead to a further erosion of the supply of wholesome local foods.”

Bassey continued: “Analysts predict that food for the poor will get scarcer as the well to do demand for more foods based on animal products because the animals will require more grains to produce. If rich Africans get hooked on Western foods and consume meats and animal products at their levels, then we can expect tragic results in terms of resource pressures and healthcare issues that would come with the increased incidents of strokes, heart attacks and diabetes, among others.

“When the poor get fatter, that should send alarm signals to our governments because these are the persons who cannot afford the cost of healthcare that obesity demands. Industrial farms and market shelves piled with processed foods will not tackle the trend of preventing our people eating more and more of unhealthy foods. The solution is within our grasps: support small-scale food production and return to grandma’s recipes.”

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1 Comment
  • I think that nutrition should be reviewed. We eat a lot of seriously unhealthy food. A friend of mine writes an article about how important is the nutrition in a so chaotic alimentar world.