Will Obesity Rates in Africa Increase as it Becomes More Wealthy?

Mean rate of obesity by world region (Zinah)
Mean GDP per Capita (PPP) by World Region (Zinah)
Correlation between GDP per Capita in PPP and Rate of Obesity (Zinah)

Other causes of obesity

Wealth is just one of many ways in which countries can be similar or different. Similar cultures could also account for region wide similarities in obesity rates. Some of these cultural practices revolve around culinary habits and eating. A good example is Mauritania which has a fattening culture. Women in Mauritania are fattened by their mothers beginning middle childhood until they are ready for marriage. The food mostly comprises of fatty animal suet mixed with animal milk. Even when satiated, the are forced to take even more food. Force is used when women refuse to eat or start vomiting. According to Mauritanians, women have to be fat to be marriageable. Men consider fat to be beautiful and petite women don’t have a chance in marriage. Despite that, obesity rate in Mauritania is 12.7%. I am not sure whether neighboring countries have a fattening culture. Consider the obesity rates in Mali and Senegal are 8.6% and 8.8% respectively. Mauritania is 4 parentage points fatter than its neighbors which I believe is mostly explained by that culture.

From A Farewell to Alms by Gregory Clark

Physical Activity and obesity

Higher physical activity makes people fit and less likely to become obese. For individuals, at least, higher levels of activity helps burn excess calories keeping weight in check. This is true considering the mounting evidence showing increased levels of obesity among sedentary groups. In Africa, the Maasai are known to be thin and tall because of their nomadic lifestyles. Their Bantu counterparts, like the Kikuyu and Luhya, who settled in fertile highlands seem to have higher rates of obesity. However, what I was interested in was global data on physical activity. The chart below shows physical inactivity as recorded from 73 countries across the world. It provides rates of physical inactivity for both men and women.

Prevalence of physical inactivity in 76 countries (Dumith et al. 2011)
Pearson Correlation depicting the relationship between rate of obesity and physical inactivity
Mean Rates of Physical Inactivity by World Region (Zinah)

Obesity and genetics

We have seen that there is only a slight positive relationship between living standards and obesity rates. There is also a small relationship between physical inactivity and obesity. The last reason for regional similarities in obesity rates might be genetics. Neighboring countries not only share cultures and habits but also genetic ancestry. Most neighboring countries have similar ancestries meaning they are closer genetically than countries far away from them. It is, therefore, essential to establish whether obesity rates within regions are subject to shared genes.

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Zinah Issa

Zinah Issa

Reflecting on the cognitive and sociocultural nature of our societies.