BURKINA FASO-FRANCE: Rising urban obesity alert

The number of town-dwellers in developing countries is expected to double between 2000 and 2025. With rapid urbanisation comes a change of eating habits - and not for the better, as more meat, fat, salt and sugar enter the diet and snacks replace meals.

In many African countries, where paradoxically malnutrition remains a major preoccupation, obesity is taking over in the towns and increasing the risk of chronic disease, according to findings of a joint Burkinabé-French research project.

The project was carried out by researchers from the French Institute for Development Research, or IRD, and Burkina Faso's Ministry of Health department of nutrition, Higher Institute of Population Sciences and Institute of Research in Health Sciences.

It took place in two contrasting districts - one rich, one poor - in the Burkina capital Ouagadougou, a city where the urban population is now seven times greater than in 1975. It found that 36% of women and 14.5% of men were overweight.

Nutritionists demonstrated that this corpulence was linked to new 'western' eating habits among inhabitants, particularly the better-off.

The researchers say this 'nutritional transition' and its results have already occurred in northern countries, but it is no longer solely a problem in developed countries.

"It is increasing at a spectacular rate in Africa, particularly in towns. Its consequences on health will constitute a major challenge for public health policies for these countries in the years to come," says the IRD report.