Obesity in Africa: Is Fast Food Making Us Fat?

 
 


For years, there have been articles and reports about Africa’s growing obesity problem and the causes of it. Some reports state the problem lies with Africans’ “big and beautiful” attitude.

There’s definitely some truth to that claim; women with meat on their bones are considered attractive in many African countries. One only has to look at the leading ladies of Nollywood to know that the standard of beauty here is pretty different from Hollywood’s.

Other reports state the problem is urbanization. We Africans used to work on farms (gross generalization). Now that we work in offices, the lack of physical labour is making us fat.

That makes sense. If people consume more calories than they burn, they’re going to gain weight.

 

While both arguments ring true, the reports failed to mention another factor that may be contributing to Africa’s obesity problem: the growing presence of fast food restaurants. I can’t speak for all of Africa but here in Nigeria, fast food is a booming industry. Restaurants like Mr.Biggs, Tastee Chicken, Sweet Sensation and Kentucky Fried Chicken (the current favorite), are everywhere. There are more fast food restaurants than super-markets in Lagos.

Now these restaurants are popping up left and right and they are being frequented often. You can blame the popularity of such places on the affluence associated with eating out. Unlike the states, where fast-food restaurants are considered places to get a cheap meal, being able to eat at a KFC means your wealthy to some people.

There’s also the appeal of experiencing something new. When Domino’s Pizza opened on Victoria Island (the first of many) there was a line out the door. Before the restaurant even opened, the popular pizza chain’s Facebook page had over 4,000 likes. People have been looking forward to the opening of Domino’s Pizza the way others look forward to the opening of a new theme park. And who can blame them? With the lack of parks, movie theaters and other attractions in the country, most social outings revolve around food.

While the rise of obesity in Africa can’t be tied to just one thing, the increasing availability of delicious, unhealthy meals can’t be helping. The popularity of fast food restaurants is unlikely to wane anytime soon (Domino’s Pizza plans to have 500 restaurants in Nigeria by 2015). So what’s the solution? Is it the government’s responsibility to make sure its citizens are making educated choices when it comes to food?

Dietary guidelines are already available to anyone who cares enough to find it online. But if restaurants serving fattening food are becoming as commonplace as markets, perhaps more drastic measures need to be taken.

In the US, fast food restaurants are required to display the calorie information of the food they serve. Do African countries need to follow suit? Some think they do. But when being able to eat out represents wealth, success and happiness, would it even make a difference?