71st Session of the Regional Committee for Africa
World Obesity Federation congratulates the World Health Organization and its member states in the African region for their commitment to develop a framework for implementing the priority actions of the Decade of Healthy Ageing in the context of the sustainable development goals in the region.
Specifically, we commend the recognition of the need to strengthen efforts to prevent risk factors of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and the recognition that quality, early treatment of NCDs should be strengthened in primary health care (PHC) services.
Obesity is a chronic disease that independently increases mortality rates and is a major risk factor for the three NCDs responsible for most premature deaths worldwide - cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer. In addition, World Obesity’s latest report also highlighted the correlation between COVID-19 deaths rates and obesity, with stark contrasts between countries with low and high levels of obesity on COVID-19 death rates: death rates are ten times higher in countries where over 50% of the population is overweight. After old age, overweight and obesity is therefore the most significant risk factor for worst outcomes in case of illness due to COVID-19.
Overweight and obesity is now fastest rising in emerging economies, many of which are experiencing a double burden of malnutrition. Despite the 2019 Resolution to reduce the double-burden of malnutrition in the region, Sub-Saharan Africa has been identified as a region with a particularly rapid growth that increases the risk of triggering a public health crisis. Today, eight out of the 20 fastest rising countries with adult obesity are found in Africa, along with a steep increase in other comorbidities linked to obesity – the prevalence of diabetes has increased by 129% since 1980 and now records 18.9 deaths/1000 cases, the highest rate in the world. In parallel, World Obesity’s Missing the Targets report shows that the region is experiencing an exponential growth in the percentage and number of children ages 5-19 years living with obesity, whilst also recording the highest prevalence and number of infants under 5 years with stunting (33% of 56.1m in 2018).
It is thus vital that we focus during this time on improving the health and reducing the vulnerability of people living with, affected by or at risk of developing obesity, while working to reduce the double burden of malnutrition through comprehensive, multi-sectorial action. We therefore urge all Member States in the African region:
- To strengthen policy measures to include the diagnosis and management of obesity and diabetes as essential services in PHC services and include access to prevention, treatment and management of obesity through the life-course.
- To call for high-level political commitment and investment in universal health coverage (UHC), ensuring efforts are cross-departmental and cross-sectoral. With 8.8% of national healthcare expenditure in the region attributable to high BMI, governments should invest in obesity care across the whole spectrum and include obesity in national NCD and COVID-19 recovery plans.
- To ensure strong accountability mechanisms are in place to monitor progress towards achieving the global obesity targets.
- To include the prevention, management and treatment of obesity as a priority in UHC efforts and as a vital pathway to meet other relevant SDG target, including SDG 3.4 on the reduction of premature mortality from NCDs, including diabetes.
Actions to address obesity will be essential to ensure healthy ageing across the African Region. By fast-tracking the implementation of nutrition and other public health policies, governments can help address obesity and strengthen population resilience to reduce the burden of NCDs in the region.
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Statement to the 71st Session of the Regional Committee for Africa
Agenda item 16: Framework for implementing the priority actions of the global plan of action of the decade of healthy ageing 2021-2030 in the African RegionDownload (194.38 KB)