Africa is known for her extreme poverty and malnutrition. However, when you flip the coin and look at the continent’s obesity index, you are met with some disturbing data. For instance, Libya is the 20th most obese country in the world at 33.10%, followed by Egypt at 28.9%, Tunisia at 27.10%, and South Africa at 26.8%.
The number of people who die each year for being overweight or obese is 4.5 million, which is higher than underweight deaths. Economically, obesity uses up to US $ 117.7 million globally every year. In many countries, cities have the most populations; therefore, they have more overweight cases than rural areas because of advanced technologies, office jobs, and paved roads with a significant number of vehicles and fast food franchises. As the cases of global obesity escalate, we took time to sample the top ten healthiest cities in Africa.
1CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA
In our story, “The top Ten Most Liveable Cities in Africa”, we mentioned the beautiful South African city graced by the view of the ocean and the table mountains. Besides splendid views, Cape Town is home to the healthiest people in South Africa – according to the Discovery Vitality Group in their Vitality Obecity Index 2017. The research shows that 53.5% of Capetonians live healthy lifestyles with normal weight as compared to other South African Cities like Johannesburg, Durban, Pretoria, Bloemfontein, and Port Elizabeth. Although the report brings out the clear picture on consumption per city, its findings majorly touch on South Africa. As a result, this report is comparatively inaccurate when cities outside of South Africa are included.
According to Vitality, Capetown improved by 7% from 2014. The Group attributes this improvement to the change in shopping habits. “Cape Town purchased the most portions of fruit and vegetables compared to other cities, followed by Johannesburg and Bloemfontein. Port Elizabeth and Durban purchased the least portions of fruit and vegetables. Durban purchased 34% less fruit and vegetables compared to Cape Town, the winning city”, the report says. Capetown, however, did not slow down in the purchases of sugar and salt, which are substances mostly associated with weight gain. Overall, the shift in food preference, among other factors, could have played a major role in improving the lifestyle of Capetonians.
The capital city of Rwanda is one of the fastest growing metropolises with a rising population. The 2012-2013 preliminary study on obesity put women at a higher risk of contracting obesity than men in Rwanda. Although the number is still low, it shows signs of increasing rapidly. According to the report the risk of obesity was highest among women at 6.3%, while men were at 2.1%. The government of Rwanda has fortunately put in place initiatives to encourage healthy lifestyles; for example, the East African reports that “there is a government policy to promote physical education in communities, a compulsory weekly physical exercise among all civil servants, and various gym centres, but the Rwanda Biomedical Centre said there is a need for continued education of citizens on the benefits of physical exercise”. According to the Ministry of Health, many did not reach the recommended WHO of at least 5 servings a day of fruits and vegetables.
An Examination of SocioEconomic Determinants of Average Body Mass Indices in Rwanda by Edward Mutandwa says that though there is need for further studies, his research has revealed that there was no obesity in Rwanda. On the contrary, the Body Mass Index has been increasing over time.
Rwanda still has some serious malnutrition cases, but the country’s government is putting in measures to turn the tide. There have even been efforts that have caused a reduction in the country’s malnutrition percentages, e.g. malnutrition was reduced from 51% to 43% between 2006 and 2012.
With efforts from both government and private organisations, Kigali is proving to be the healthiest city in Africa. The government of Rwanda has shown that it wants to nip the obesity crisis in the bud before the situation gets worse. Coupled with the government’s achievements of making Kigali the cleanest city, this could be one of the places where fresh air and fruits are plentiful.
3BAHIR DAR, ETHIOPIA
Bahir Dar is a northwestern city and capital of the Amhara region in Ethiopia. It is the southern port of Lake Tana, with a number of tourist attractions in the lake and the Blue Nile – which is known in the area as ‘Abay’. The town is known for its wide avenues lined by palm trees and flowers. Considered to be one of the most beautiful, well organised, and safest cities in the world, the town also has some of the healthiest people in the world. According to research in the International Journal for General Medicine (https://goo.gl/mjzkMY), the May 2015 report says, “Regarding the BMI of the respondents, 104 (2.9%) and 20 (15.3%) respondents were found to be obese and overweight, respectively. Of the total obese and overweight patients, 77 (62.1%) were females” . Though this report majorly focuses on Ethiopia, it gives clear data for comparative studies in major African cities. Therefore, when comparing different studies in Ethiopia, Bahir Dar fared well against cities like Addis Ababa and Gondar; for instance, the case of hypertension showed HTN prevalence in Gondar city in 2014 was 10.3%, while it was 8.6% in Bahir Dar in a 2017 study.
Asmara is one of the most beautiful cities in Africa. Named as a UNESCO world heritage site, Asmara has rich architecture rife with 19th and 20th century Italian designs. Being a former colony of Italy, Eritrea turned to be an Italian architectural innovation hub away from conservative Europe.
The capital city of Asmara only adds to this grandeur with a population just under 1 million. According to Jacob Mufunda in his 2006 research titled The Prevalence of Hypertension and its Relationship with Obesity (www.academia.edu), the national tally was at 3.3%; however, the 2017 report on obesity rates puts the population at 4.10%. The fact that it has taken a decade to move 0.8% puts Eritrea in the safe zone. Not too safe though, seeing as the country is ranked 9th on the poor countries list. Nonetheless, the exquisiteness of Asmara and her beautiful people continues to overshadow this small statistic.
Known for her resplendent palm-lined Atlantic coastline, Lome is home to the Congressional Palace that houses the National Museum and the Central Independence Monument.
According to the research done in Prevalence and Determinants of Obesity among workers in Lome (Togo) in 2013, studies discovered that the frequency of obesity was 30.8 % and abdominal obesity was 39.4% – both with a significant female prevalence.
The capital of this former French colony overlooks the Atlantic Ocean on the Cape Vert Peninsula. The city’s main museum, Theodore Monod, displays the country’s rich cultural heritage among other crafts.
Research conducted in 2016 found that about 87% of Dakar city dwellers are healthy. This could be attributed to the vibrant life present in the West African city. Dakar is among the cities in Africa where the prevalence of obesity is still low, but not low enough to cause less hiccups in the country’s economy. In a 2016 research study, Hypertension and Obesity in Dakar Senegal, it was found that of the 984 respondents, “in terms of BMI, the prevalence of underweight, overweight, and general obesity were 12.6%, 19.2%, and 9.7%”.
Brazzaville is the capital of the Republic of Congo, along the River Congo. Just opposite is Kinshasa, which is the Capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Brazzaville has various attractions; Loufoulakari Falls, 80Kms outside Brazzaville and the Congo Rapids, is one of them.
The research in the World Journal of Cardiovascular diseases Volume 4 No. 2 (2014) on the prevalence of obesity in Brazzaville was comparative. Essentially, it viewed how levels of inactivity increase the level of obesity among people. In the research, bank workers had higher obesity prevalence than railway workers. However, the research places the city’s general obesity prevalence at 20%.
In addition, Brazzaville’s fruit and vegetable consumption was at a weekly mean of 2.8% and 3.6%, according to a 2004 fact sheet.
The capital and industrial hub of Mali has a population of about 1.8 million people. Graced by the navigable Niger River, Bamako’s attractions transcend culture, history, and architectural marvel.
In Overweight and Obesity in the Population over 20 Years in Urban Bamako, Mali, the city’s obesity prevalence for 2016 was at 15%. Given Bamako’s population, this percentage loosely translates to a healthy society.
Bordering Africa’s largest lake, Lake Victoria, Kampala is the political and commercial capital of Uganda. Kampala has a population of an estimated 1.5 million people. Additionally, the city is home to the Kasubi tombs and the Lubiri Palace, which is situated on the nearby Mengo Hills.
90% of Uganda’s young adults are healthy, according to 2010 research conducted by Makerere Medical School. Prevalence of Overweight and Obesity in Young Adults Uganda shows that the percentage prevalence of being obese and overweight in the Kampala District is around 4.4% and 10.2%.
According to an article that appeared in the 2011 East African Magazine, Ugandans generally consume 65Kg of fruit and vegetables per day, which is almost half the amount (146kg) recommended by WHO and FAO.
10DAR ES SALAAM, TANZANIA
Dar Es Salaam is a picturesque Indian Ocean port city in Tanzania. As of 2012, UN data estimated that the city’s population was about 4.3 million. Common tourist attractions include the Open Air Museum and Coco Beach among others.
Dar Es Salaam’s population is healthy, save for the 13% and 36% obesity prevalence among men and women shown in a 2012 study.
The above cities were chosen based on the World Obesity Index per country, except for Cape Town whose data was obtained from a comparative study of South African cities by Discovery Vitality. The results above may need further research carried out by institutions such as the African Union (AU) or AMREF Health Africa, so that we may have accurate data for all countries in Africa. Furthermore, there is need for the malnutrition index in Africa to establish a stable way for handling both malnutrition and obesity in the continent.
Article by Musungu Okach, an art and culture writer based in Kenya. An avid reader, Musungu spends most of his free time researching historical and cultural issues- with a bias on early Egyptian civilization. Besides history, his versatility can be seen in his interests in environment, health, agriculture, education, human rights and governance- topics he champions through his writings and talks. Musungu also teaches literature and English at an adult education centre in Nairobi.