Let us treat obesity now and avoid the consequences later

20Oct 2021
The Guardian
Let us treat obesity now and avoid the consequences later

Overweight and obesity are defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health. A body mass index over 25 is considered overweight, and over 30 is obese. Rates of overweight and obesity continue to grow in adults and children.

Obesity often results from taking in more calories than are burned by exercise and normal daily activities. The main symptom is excessive body fat, which increases the risk of serious health problems.The mainstay of treatment is lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise.

A new study conducted by the Economic and Social Research Foundation (ESRF) has shown that obesity cases are rising in Tanzania, increasing the risk of non-communicable diseases.

The study shows that if no action is taken this will impose heavy economic burden on individuals, families and the government.

The Economic and Social Research Foundation in their report following the research calls for urgent policy intervention by the government to arrest the trend it says has led to upsurge of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Apart from the ever rising death toll from the NCDs, individual patients incur medical and non-medical costs totalling 1,211.78 US dollars annually, on average, as well as indirect costs such as loss of income, according to the report.

The cost to the government of caring for NCD patients nearly doubled from 142.7 million dollars in 2015/16 to 280.6 million dollars in 2019/20.

Obesity and NCDs are a global concern. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 39 percent of the global adult population or 1.9 billion people were overweight in 2016 while 13 percent (650 million people) were obese. Some 41 million children under five years were also diagnosed overweight or obese.

The research by the policy think tank found that five percent of Tanzania's adult population had excessive weight in 2008, but this rose to 8.4 percent in 2016, whereas deaths from NCDs accounted for a third of all deaths. Obesity was reported to be higher among females (12.7 per cent) than men (4.1 per cent) and it affects the age group 45-54 years most.

Lack of community awareness on NCDs and the government's concentration on curative care services rather than preventive measures is blamed for the continued growth of the diseases.

Obese people are in turn vulnerable to developing non-communicable ailments, such as cardiovascular complications, diabetes and various cancers.

The study found that middle-aged adults consumed high intake of sugary drinks, concluding that imposition of tax would help lower the intake, thereby reducing obesity prevalence by 6.6 per cent overall.

The researchers recommend consultation with SSB manufacturers, consumers and other stakeholders on the proposal to ensure inclusive implementation.

The report gives evidence that the fiscal policy intervention has proved effective in many countries, including South Africa, India, Brazil, Denmark, France, United Kingdom and Bulgaria.

This is the first such study in Eastern Africa and second only to one carried out in South Africa on the continent.

Raising the excise tax on sugar-sweetened drinks by 20 percent of the price would not only complement other measures to reduce obesity, but will also boost government revenues by an additional 452bn/- annually.

World Obesity Day is observed globally on 4 March as of March 2020 (having previously been observed on the 11th October) with the view of promoting practical solutions to end the global obesity crisis.

It is organised by the World Obesity Federation, a non-profit body which is in official relations with the World Health Organization  and is a collaborating body on the Lancet Commission on Obesity.  World Obesity states that its aim is to "lead and drive global efforts to reduce, prevent and treat obesity."  

World Obesity Day 2017 was themed "treat obesity now and avoid the consequences later." It called for investment in treatment services to support people affected by obesity, early intervention to improve the success of treatment, and prevention to reduce the need for treatment.