Obesity has become a significant public health concern not only in developed countries, but also in many developing nations – including Ghana. This article aims to shed light on the alarming rise of obesity in Ghana, providing background information, relevant data from reliable sources, and exploring key contributory factors such as dietary habits and sedentary lifestyles prevalent among the working class. Furthermore, it will highlight potential solutions to address this growing epidemic.
Our beloved country has witnessed rapid urbanisation and modernisation in recent years, bringing about changes in lifestyle and dietary patterns. Traditional Ghanaian diets were predominantly composed of whole grains, legumes and vegetables. However, the introduction of highly processed foods, urbanisation, and changing socio-cultural factors have led to a shift toward a more Westernised, high-calorie and low-nutrient diet.
Obesity data and statistics
According to a 2019 report by the World Health Organization (WHO), the prevalence of obesity in Ghana has increased substantially over the past few decades. In 1992, the obesity rate was estimated to be around 5.3 percent while in 2016, it had risen to 15.6 percent. A more recent study published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2020 indicated that the prevalence of overweight and obesity among Ghanaian adults had reached 35.3 percent. These numbers demonstrate the urgency of addressing this issue in Ghana.
Ghana’s dietary habits have changed dramatically in recent years, leading to an increase in the consumption of processed foods. These foods, which are high in unhealthy fats, added sugars and sodium, have become more popular because they are less expensive and more widely available than fresh and nutritious alternatives. Unfortunately, this shift toward sugary beverages, fast food and snacks has had a negative impact on the country’s obesity rates, exacerbating the public health crisis.
Lack of physical activity
Another significant factor contributing to obesity in Ghana is the lack of physical activity, particularly among the working class. With the rapid urbanisation and industrialisation, Ghanaians engaged in sedentary occupations that involve prolonged sitting and minimal physical exertion are prone to this epidemic. Additionally, limited access to recreational facilities and safe spaces for exercise further compounds this issue.
Cultural and societal factors also influence physical activity levels, as traditional forms like walking and cycling are replaced by motorised transportation due to convenience and perceived status.
Obesity prevalence is significantly influenced by socio-economic status. Lower-income people frequently face financial constraints, which leads to the consumption of cheaper, high-calorie foods. Furthermore, long work hours and job-related stress contribute to poor dietary choices and insufficient time for physical activity. These factors contribute to a difficult environment in which individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds are more vulnerable to obesity due to limited access to healthy food options and fewer opportunities for regular exercise.
Marketing and advertising influence
The food industry heavily promotes processed and unhealthy foods through aggressive advertising campaigns, influencing consumer choices and contributing to the obesity epidemic. These ads romanticise unhealthy food options, making them appealing and desirable. Continuous exposure to such advertisements can influence people to consume these products on a regular basis, resulting in weight gain and obesity.
Promoting healthy eating
Public health campaigns and education programmes should be implemented to raise awareness about the importance of a balanced diet. Collaborations with local farmers and markets can help make fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains more accessible and affordable to the population. Encouraging the consumption of traditional Ghanaian foods, which are often healthier, can also be beneficial.
Enhancing physical activity
Efforts should be made to create opportunities for physical activity within urban environments. Building and maintaining parks, recreational centres, and safe walking and cycling paths can encourage people to engage in regular exercise. Employers can also promote workplace wellness programmes, providing incentives for physical activity during breaks and lunch hours.
Government policies and regulations are instrumental in combating obesity. Implementing taxes on sugary beverages and unhealthy food items can discourage their consumption while generating revenue for public health initiatives. Regulations can also be put in place to ensure accurate food labelling and limiting deceptive marketing practices that target children.
Education and awareness
Comprehensive education campaigns targeting schools, workplaces and communities should be initiated to raise awareness about the health risks associated with obesity. Providing nutritional education, cooking classes, and physical activity programmes can empower individuals to make informed lifestyle choices.
Obesity is gradually emerging as a pressing public health issue in Ghana, demanding immediate attention and concerted efforts. Addressing the contributory factors, including dietary habits and sedentary lifestyles among the working class, is crucial to reversing the obesity trend. By promoting healthy eating, enhancing physical activity, implementing policy interventions, and increasing education and awareness, Ghana can take significant strides toward curbing the obesity epidemic, ensuring a healthier and more prosperous future for its population.
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any organisation.
>>>I’ll be your wingman on your health journey! The writer is a public health professional with a Master’s degree from the University of Illinois at Springfield, USA and works as a Medical Fraud Analyst at the Illinois Office of Inspector-General. He founded GD Consult in Ghana to promote healthy lifestyles and developed innovative projects, such as a Health Risk Assessment Model for hydraulic fracking operations. He can be reached via [email protected]