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Unhealthy eating habits in Africa

Its true technology makes it easy to treat most modern diseases. However, a lurking threat has emerged, throwing the world into disarray. The greatest threat to human health is in the form of nutrition-linked chronic diseases. Most of the diseases have unhealthy eating habits and lifestyles as causes. In the long run, these habits cause irreparable damage to human health. This article explains unhealthy eating habits in Africa. Because Africa has seen an alarming increase in nutrition-linked chronic diseases over the years.

Unhealthy eating habits in Africa can increase risks of diet-linked non-communicable diseases.
Unhealthy eating habits can increase risks of diet-linked diseases.

Unhealthy eating habits definition

Its only fitting that we define unhealthy eating habits first.

What are unhealthy eating habits

Unhealthy eating is the incorrect eating of food or food-related products. This can be done knowingly or unknowingly. Whilst a habit is an overlearned action. The action becomes embedded in the human subconscious over time. This makes it hard to stop any habit, especially bad habits.

Unhealthy eating habits are the act of getting used to the incorrect eating of food. This includes overeating and eating unhealthy foods. These may be too salty, sugary, super-refined, highly fatty or snacks! Drinking too much alcohol, adding too many herbs/spices or overeating goat meat are all considered unhealthy eating habits.

The current situation on unhealthy eating habits in Africa

Modernisation comes as a curse to the African diet. This phenomenon has causes serious changes in the African food environment. And these changes lead to the normalisation of unhealthy eating habits in Africa.

Changes in the African food environment continue to shift African dietary behaviours. The new food environment favours unhealthy food consumption.
It also normalises unhealthy beverage consumption. In some cases, drinking sugar-sweetened beverages is prestigious. And beverages have eliminated the role of water in quenching thirst.

Changes in the food environment are bringing a nutritional transition to Africa. They increase the consumption of processed foods. These unhealthy foods have high energy and nutrient densities. Characteristics that are undesirable in healthy foods.  As they contribute to increasing the prevalence of diet-related diseases and disorders.

The turn of the millennium has seen an increased prevalence of diet-related diseases. Cases of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancers have increased. The increase in unhealthy eating habits in Africa is associated with these problems. Some believe that modernisation and urbanisation brought unhealthy dietary habits to Africa.

These diseases were once alien to Africa and common in the Western world. Africans born in the 60s can be seen in the 80s now. A fact depicting a higher life expectancy. However, that cannot be said for the new generations. As life expectancies in most African countries have dropped significantly. Diet-related diseases fueled by poverty, hunger and starvation have seen to that. These factors are coupled with poor health systems. And this is the reason why mortality is high from these diseases.

Causes of unhealthy eating habits in Africa

Why do people eat unhealthily in Africa

Globalisation and modernisation

Globalization and modernisation have shaped the dietary habits of Africa differently. The two phenomena brought new social, economic, material and cultural factors. These factors are foreign to African societies. And they drive unhealthy eating habits in Africa. This has increased the disease burden for Africa. Even health professionals also practice unhealthy dietary behaviours. Even though, they are supposed to provide nutritional guidance to the general population. However, they have the same nutrition health risks as the general population.

Urbanisation

Urbanisation has also brought undesirable problems to the African diet. Most people now see growing their food as a show of poverty. When coupled with increased rural-urban migration, this has reduced overall food production. Which is undesirable. Because it’s known that a big chunk of food is grown by smallholder farmers. These are the same people opting to go and live in the cities. Here they work and earn. The meagre funds they earn are used to buy food at a premium. This food is usually in small quantities and of poor quality. The overall impact of this is persistent micro-nutrient deficiencies in most communities.

Weight discrimination

Weight discrimination also causes unhealthy eating habits in Africa. In most African countries cyberbullying is unregulated. This has resulted in increased body shaming of obese and overweight people on social media. This is a serious form of weight discrimination. The same discrimination happens in communities, schools, colleges, churches and workplaces. This tends to stress the victims. And results in massive snacking, binge eating and consumption of unhealthy foods. The unhealthy behaviours result in further weight gain. Weight discrimination can trigger unhealthy eating habits.

Costs of food

High costs of food also cause unhealthy eating habits in Africa. Most people in African communities especially the slums and rural communities do not have any food choices. They cannot afford to buy healthy foods or sustain a healthy diet. As a result, they eat whats available at the moment. In such a situation it’s difficult to make sound healthy food choices. The problem worsens when people practise compensatory eating behaviours. They overeat when they do find enough food. Because they strain the body’s systems in that short period of abundance. This further harms their health.

Other causes of unhealthy eating habits in Africa

Another cause of unhealthy eating habits in Africa is the obsession with being classy. Most middle and high-income families are obsessed with being classy. Some of the most frequented “classy” restaurants and fast food places serve unhealthy foods. The so-called classy foods significantly harm the body. This is the reason why nutrition-linked non-communicable diseases are now more prevalent.

Trends also contribute to unhealthy eating habits in Africa. Fast foods and junky food consumption is steadily rising in most communities. This type of food is considered classy and trendy. Especially among young people. During the festive seasons, fast food outlets have winding queues. Some of them even run out of raw materials. This shows the way the consumption of unhealthy food can trend. To make matters, worse, the advertisement of unhealthy food is poorly regulated. This means unhealthy eating habits go unchallenged in most African countries.

Many other factors contribute to unhealthy eating habits in Africa. Some will be explained in other articles in this series.

Effects of unhealthy eating habits in Africa

Unhealthy eating habits increase the prevalence of diet linked diseases

Unhealthy dietary behaviours increase the number of deaths from non-communicable diet-linked diseases. Cardiovascular diseases are among the top killers.

Unhealthy eating habits in Africa increase the average body weight of entire communities. Incidences of weight gain and obesity also increase. Unhealthy eating behaviours are the main cause of weight gain and obesity. 

Poor eating habits can increase inflammation levels in the body. Inflammation damages internal body organs. This results in the development inflammatory diseases.

Unhealthy eating habits in Africa play a role in increasing the prevalence of type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance. They also reduce insulin sensitivity. This results in the development of diabetes. Most unhealthy eating habits involve consumption of super refined and sugary foods. These foods cause blood sugar and insulin spikes. And this results in the development of type 2 diabetes. The habits can lead to the development of metabolic syndrome. In some cases, blood sugar spikes also cause ovulatory infertility.

Increased incidences of cardiovascular diseases have links to unhealthy eating habits in Africa. These include coronary heart diseases, strokes, embolisms and hypertension. Unhealthy dietary habits also cause endothelial dysfunction. In this condition instead of blocking, blood vessels around the heart constrict. This makes them smaller. And any breathing effort causes heartache.

Other harmful effects

Unhealthy foods have low dietary fibre content. And also unhealthy diets full of super-refined foods. These foods have a high-status to most people. This encourages overeating and increase disease risks.

Low fibre diets increase the risks of gastrointestinal diseases. These include bowel cancers, ulcers, diverticulosis, constipation etc. 

Also, these diets also weaken the population of helpful microorganisms in the gut. This results in poor gut health.

Unhealthy eating habits in Africa increase cases of multi-micronutrient deficiencies. This results in a high rate of micronutrient deficiency diseases.

Bad eating habits also cause poor post-operation recoveries and health. This increases the mortality rate of post-surgery patients.

Also, unhealthy eating habits in Africa cause a lot of neurological disorders. These include dementia, Alzheimer’s and other neurological disorders.

These habits can also cause artery damage and gall stones. They also increase the risks of osteoporosis and age-related vision loss in the elderly.

All these problems have arisen as a consequence of unhealthy eating habits in Africa.

Examples of unhealthy eating habits

Several interventions are needed to get rid of unhealthy eating habits in Africa. And one of them is encouraging people to personally grow food effectively!

Unhealthy eating habits list. Preferences of sweet and junky food, eating fatty meat portions, adding extra salt, overconsumption of alcohol, compensatory eating, adding too much vegetable oils and glorifying overeating and obesity.
Unhealthy eating habits list

List of unhealthy eating habits in Africa

  • Preferences for junky foods
  • Love of sweet foods
  • Fatty meat portions
  • Too much salt
  • Overconsumption of alcohol
  • Compensatory eating
  • Vegetable oils
  • Glorifying overeating and obesity

Conclusion

Unhealthy eating habits currently hold Africa ransom. It is only fitting that African citizens take care of what they eat. This protects them from undesirable diet-related chronic diseases. It also helps them fight the disadvantages of dysfunctional health systems.

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