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Obesity can be described as a condition where a person is too fat in a way that is considered dangerous to the health of that person. An overweight person is one who is considered to weigh more than he or she ought to. According to WHO there are over a billion overweight and three hundred million clinically obese people in the world. People who are fat are considered to eat too much food especially foods that contain saturated fats and sugar. Fast foods are mostly associated with developed countries. This is why it is remarkable that evidence suggests that the number of obese people in developing countries has increased. It has been noted that the burden of obesity has slowly shifted from the rich to the poor countries (Aitsi-Selmi 2145). The common image associated with developing countries is under nutrition because of lack of food. Obesity is however fast becoming a major problem among adults and children in developing countries. This has made malnutrition in most developing countries to be twofold; this is because of obesity and hunger (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations).
Obesity is mostly measured using body mass index (BMI). Body Mass Index is defined as the weight in kilograms divided by the height in meters squared (kg/m2). A person with a BMI of more than 25 kg/m2 is considered overweight, while one with a body mass index of over 30 kg/m2 is considered obese. In developing countries in most parts of Africa and Asia, adults have a BMI of about 22-23 kg/m2. A BMI of more than 25 kg/m2 is however more common in North Africa, especially in Egypt.
Overweight and Obesity in Egypt
Egypt’s adult population is considered one of the most obese and overweight in Africa, according to the World Health Organization. The problem of obesity also extends to the Egyptian youth (Eduardo 646). 70% of the population in Egypt is either obese or overweight making Egypt the 14th country in the world leading in obesity and overweight (World Health Organization). The high rate of overweight and obesity in Egypt is associated mainly with the rising number of fast food restaurants and inactive lifestyle. Practicing exercise was found to be the least done activity during leisure time in Egypt in a recent study (Musaiger 877). It has also been noted that only 2% of the adults did exercises in their leisure time. Lifestyle changes for families have also been a contributing factor for obesity as more families are seen to be consuming processed foods. As women become more educated in the country they become more liberal and prefer not to cook time consuming food. Women are now opting for easy food to make which is most of the time processed food or fast food. Obesity in Egypt is also more prevalent among women in urban areas (Aitsi-Selmi 2147). By the year 2005, half of the population of Egyptian women of reproductive age was classified as obese. It has also been established that obesity in Egypt is a social phenomenon whereby highly educated and urban women are more likely to suffer from obesity. Studies have shown that obesity is not normally found in poor societies like those in developing countries. If there are obese or overweight people in poor societies they are considered to be affluent. In rich societies like those in developed countries obesity and overweight are more common but they are mostly found among poor communities. This is because in most developed countries fast foods are considered cheap. The affluent in these societies are also able to access gyms and personal trainers to help them keep fit.
Egyptian Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) show that between 1995 and2005 obesity and overweight levels in women of lower socioeconomic standing was more rampant (Musaiger 878). This trend however changed over the years such that by 2008, the Demographic and Health Surveys showed that there was a higher level of obesity among educated mothers as compared to uneducated mothers. Aitsi-Selmi (2146) points out that1 in 3 women which is equal to 36%, in rural Egypt are affected by obesity while 1 in 2 women which is equivalent to 45%, in urban areas are obese. Research has also shown that women are the most afflicted by obesity (Popkin 286). Demographic and Health Surveys in 2008 showed that only 18% of the adult male population is considered obese in Egypt. It has also been observed that the prevalence of obesity among men is more in men who are educated in contrast to men who are uneducated (Popkin 286).
A shift in food supply in Egypt over the years has also led to the high rate of obesity and overweight. There has been a shift from mixed grains such as corn, wheat, rice and sorghum to wheat only. Sugar, oils, fats and meat are also readily available and healthier foods such as legumes, fruits and vegetables have become less important. Refined sugar in tea and soft drinks has also become more available. This shift in food consumption definitely reflects a move towards more refined foods which are one of the causes of obesity. It is reported that between 2009 and 2010 a fifth of the new product releases in Egypt were grain based. These products were mostly pastries and sweet goods as well as pasta. The value and volume of noodles in Egypt also increased by 25% in 2010 (Afsaw 214). The value increased to 20 million US dollars while the volume increased by 5,500 tons. The main reason for the gain in popularity of noodles in Egypt is because they are cheap. Noodles are also easy to prepare and as families are becoming busier and adopting more demanding lifestyles, noodles are a quick meal to make. Noodles can also be prepared anywhere as long as there is hot water available so this means that even the people who work long hours in the office can prepare and eat it.
Popkin (285) has recognized this shift in many developing countries where the people change from traditional foods to more westernized diets and lifestyles. This has come mostly with globalization and the perceived move towards modernization. Foods that are high in saturated fats and sugar have replaced healthier traditional options. This is more so for the younger generations. There is also less physical activity with more technological inventions. Technology most of the time is meant to reduce the amount of work one has to do. For instance if a person is to use a car from home to work and back, then they would not have to walk and this increases chances of becoming overweight.
Afsaw (217) also suggests that the food subsidy program in Egypt impacts negatively on the weight of mothers. This is because it is hypothesized that a majority of subsidized foods are energy dense and since their cost is lowered it makes getting obese all the more easier. This has also been linked to the Conditional Cash Transfer Program in Egypt where the money acquired through this program is spent on fast food thus causing more obesity. It has also been noted that there is a rampant increase in levels of obesity and overweight in Egypt because of foreign direct investment (FDI). It is stipulated that foreign direct investment leads to increased processing of food and sale of this food. Studies show that between 2001 and 2008 the rate of FDI in Egypt increased from 0.5% to 13%. Industries such as those of dairy products and soft drinks have also increased, contributing largely to the rate of obesity in Egypt especially among the youth.
Cultural factors have also been a contributing factor to obesity and overweight in Egypt. It has been observed that the Egyptian culture like many African cultures prefers women to be full figured. Some women tend to grow from full figured to overweight and then to obese in a very short time, thus creating the problem. This is especially so for the more traditional women in rural areas. Women in rural areas are also expected to be less mobile as their role is confined to the house. This means that there is minimal physical activity, thus higher chances of obesity or overweight.
Long periods of watching television and spending time on the internet results in physical inactivity for adolescents thus causing obesity and overweight. High levels of unemployment and unawareness have also contributed to the increase in obesity and overweight levels in Egypt. This is because due to lack of awareness of the dangers posed by energy-dense foods, more and more people continue to consume these foods. Unemployment has also caused higher levels of overweight as this means that there is no income to buy the healthier food. Cheaper options of unhealthy foods such as noodles are preferred among the low income earners and the unemployed. Unemployment also means that there is no money to enroll in a gym facility. Chocolate bars and biscuits are also preferred among poor Egyptians who live below the poverty line. Chocolate bars and biscuits are high in calories and thus contribute to the obesity and overweight levels among the poor.
Obesity and overweight levels in Egypt have been associated with various diseases. These diseases include cardiovascular diseases, cancer of the breast, kidney diseases, osteoarthritis, diabetes among others. It has also been noted in studies that the rate of diabetes mellitus and hypertension in Egypt is very high. The Egyptian Ministry of Health and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a study in which it was revealed that 63% of the adult population in Egypt leads a sedentary lifestyle with 27% being obese and 5.4% being diagnosed with diabetes.
It has been noted that as much as there are government food policies to address under-nutrition in most developing countries including Egypt, there are no policies to counter obesity. This therefore means that obesity still remains a major problem and is not receiving enough attention. It is important for nutrition policies to address both over and under nutrition. This is because some of the policies put in place to address under-nutrition are causing over-nutrition and subsequently obesity and overweight. Income supplementation programs such as the Conditional Cash Transfer do not take into consideration obesity. This is because as families are given supplemental income they are more likely to indulge in unhealthy, energy-dense foods. This therefore means that there should be education that comes with the income supplements. In the Mexican Conditional Cash Transfer Program, Oportunidades, male and female heads of families are expected to attend lectures on good nutrition. In these seminars they are encouraged to include fruits, vegetables and other healthy products in their diet. This is very helpful as most families do not know how to handle the money they are given by the government especially when it comes to nutrition. Families should also be assisted in making decisions about the right foods to consume. Most nutrition programs are also focused on child under-nutrition and not on obesity among adults. This therefore means that adult nutrition is left unsupervised thus increasing the number of overweight and obese people. It has therefore been suggested that a nutrition based Conditional Cash Transfer Program is more beneficial to Egypt. Adults should also get routine health checkups just as the children do. This would ensure that conditions such as obesity are curbed and nutrition education can also be provided, like is done in the Conditional Cash Transfer Programs in Colombia and Mexico.
It has also been noted that one of the reasons for the high rate of obesity in Egypt is the shift from traditional healthy food to unhealthy food. This means that going back to the traditional food would at least decrease the rate of obesity and overweight. The population should be educated on the nutritional benefits of traditional food in order to embrace it fully. The perceived notions on fast foods should also be dispelled. This includes the fact that fast foods like pizza are associated with the affluent members of society.
The Egyptian government can also undertake various strategies and policies to reduce the number of obese an overweight people in the country. This means that the government can create a public policy that supports the availability of food that is low in fat and high in fiber, and general healthy food. There should also be nationwide campaigns to support physical activities to increase metabolism in order to curb cases of overweight and obesity. There should also be trained medical personnel who can deal with cases of clinical obesity. This is because obese and overweight people need medical help in most cases to help them reduce weight.
Policy makers should also identify and declare obesity as an epidemic in Egypt and deal with it as such. This would include teaching the causes and remedies of obesity and overweight in university and high school. This would also mean putting in place a program to prevent obesity and overweight. A nutrition program to deal with over-nutrition would also include dealing with lifestyle disease such as diabetes, arteriosclerosis among others. There should also be laws put in place to discourage pharmaceutical companies from advertising prescription drugs that are supposedly meant to reduce obesity. This is because this would be viewed as an easy way out and people would not appreciate the gravity of the situation. Policies should instead focus on giving people appropriate education on proper nutrition as well as encouraging physical activities by availing gym facilities in local communities. There should also be qualitative and quantitative research done on obesity and overweight in order to find enough evidence in order to deeply understand the subject and find plausible solutions.
Obesity and overweight have been identified as global problems that are fast becoming prevalent in developing nations. It is clear that obesity and overweight are major contributing factors to diseases and thus affect the economy of any nation more so the developing countries. Egypt has for a long time battled with the problem of obesity especially among its women. It is also clear that economic growth of any country fosters the rate of obesity and overweight. This is because as the socioeconomic situation of a country gets better, the population is able to afford what is considered western and modern food. These foods are in most cases the ones that are associated with obesity and overweight as they contain saturated fats and refined sugar. The more developed countries however record a different statistics in terms of obesity and overweight. This is because unlike in developing countries where obesity is associated with the rich, obesity in rich countries is associated with the poor. There are various reasons why obesity has become a huge problem in developing nations more so in Egypt including cultural and socio-economic factors. There are however solution that have been recommended to deal with obesity and overweight. These include programs that address obesity directly. These programs would include education on the causes, effects and solutions to obesity. Policies should also be put in place to train medical practitioners on how to take care of obese and overweight people. There should also be societal changes including change in perceptions about nutrition and physical activity. Societal transformation is set to have long term solutions, since it means a total lifestyle change. This is the most effective way of dealing with overweight and obesity especially in Egypt.