Obesity a health condition associated with having excess abnormal body fat continues to rise due to increased poor eating habits and preference to junk food in Zambia.The health condition caused by overeating, lack of physical activity and the consumption of food that is high in cholesterol results in a number of health consequences such as hypertension, stroke, heart failure, high blood pressure, hypertension and diabetes just to mention a few.
For developing countries like Zambia with low income levels and resources, urbanisation and poverty have played a significant role in shaping the eating habits people particularly those that move from rural areas to urban areas. For instance the idea of being big (fat) is regarded as a sign of living a financially sound status and as a result people prefer western diets to traditional food.
Furthermore, marginalisation between the poor and the rich in society has also influenced the eating habits of people. Therefore, for the less privileged with no knowledge on the health risks caused by fast foods, fast foods such as chicken and chips, pizza and KFC are perceived as meals for the elite.
Secondly, fast foods are also perceived to taste better and are more conventional compared to traditional food such as kapenta, luyuni and nshima that are rich in protein and good for the health.
However, the health sector does not have adequate capacity and facilities to treat the growing number of people suffering from obesity and other various conditions associated with being overweight. The health sector does not have gastric bypass surgery facilities that operate on the obese and as a result people have to go over seize to receive medical attention.
Furthermore, people that suffer from non-communicable diseases such as heart failure, diabetes and cardiovascular related diseases. Patients that are diagnosed with heart failure have to travel to South Africa or India to get treatment as the main hospitals in the country do not have the resources to treat such conditions. The costs involved in seeking medical attention are expensive for the less privileged no financial means.
The available heath care resources are limited to addressing primary health care needs and infectious diseases. Therefore the health care needs include treating and fight diseases such as diarrhoea, malaria HIV/AIDS and polio which are priority diseases for both the World Health Organisation and government (WHO).
In addition to this, fighting poverty and under nutrition among children has also contributed to the rise of obesity as the center of attention for the government and various organisations has been finding solutions to poverty and under nutrition.This is because poverty and under nutrition results in poor educational performance which in turn leads to lower adult wages and loss of productivity capacity.
Due to the negligence of the government on the topic of obesity, there has been scanty information provided to raise public awareness on obesity as well as educational programs on its risks. As a result, the lack of awareness provided to the public has over-shadowed the growing challenge of overweight and obesity in adults.
According to a survey conducted by STEPS in 2009 on cholesterol and obesity levels in Zambia, the results showed that 14.7% of men and 21.5% of women were affected by high cholesterol in fats. On the other hand, obesity levels were at 7% to 19% for men and 21.3% to 40% for women.The survey also discovered that the lack of gastric bypass surgery facilities that operate on the obese has also contributed to the increased levels in the country as some people that are morbidly obese cannot manage physical activity and gastric bypass surgery is the only option.
In addition to this obesity levels are more common in urban areas than rural areas. This is because people from rural areas are self-reliant with regards to food and as a result prefer traditional diets. The traditional food eaten by people in rural areas includes chibwabwa (pumpkin leaves) and fruits. However, once these people shift to urban areas, they begin practicing western diets and therefore shift from the production of their own food to the purchase of processed food.
According to another study conducted by the Copperbelt University School of Medicine on obesity levels among urban residents in Lusaka, the results showed that obesity levels were at 14.2% with 5.1% in males and 18.6% in females. The levels had increased due to the consumption of alcohol by both men and women. The alcohol consumed contains enormous amounts of sugars such that if no physical activity is done to burn the fat the sugar is turned into fat which accumulates the body.
Therefore, public health intervention by the health sector is important to prevent obesity. Through the creation if public policies that promote the availability and accessibility of a variety of low fat foods that are high in fibre, obesity can be conquered. The introduction of weight loss programs such as zumba should also be promoted to encourage physical activity and fitness.
The government should take initiative and modify the agricultural systems that promote the production of healthy nutritious food for the nation. That way the health disaster of obesity can be done with and people can live healthy lives.