New Study Reveals Rising Obesity Rates Among Rwandans

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Esha Saxena Mandala
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The number of overweight people in Rwanda has increased from 14 percent in 2013 to 18.6 percent in 2022, according to findings of a country-wide survey carried out by Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC).

Dubbed “STEPS,” the study was done in the form of a household survey that gathered information on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) risk factors through a face-to-face interview, physical measurements, and biochemical analysis.

It used a sample population of 5,676 people aged between 18 and 69 years, from all the four provinces of Rwanda.

Smoking, alcoholism, overweight, physical inactivity, eating behaviour are some of the indicators that it focused on.

The problem of obesity, according to the study, is more prevalent in women than their male counterparts. It found that the number of overweight women increased from 19 percent in 2013 to 26 percent in 2022. For men, a slight increase was recorded from 9 percent to 11.5 percent during the same period.

Dr Francois Uwinkindi, the Manager of the Non-Communicable Diseases Division at RBC, said obesity is a risk factor for diabetes, hypertension and heart diseases. He noted that the numbers of obese people are not yet alarming but they are “increasing.”

More findings of the study showed that the number of people doing sufficient physical exercise has increased by almost five fold from 2013 to 2022.

In 2013, it was estimated that 21.4 percent of people in Rwanda were not doing enough physical activity, however, the numbers fell to 4.6 percent in 2022.

The study defines enough physical activity as more than 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week.

The prevalence of tobacco smoking reduced from 12.9 percent in 2013 to 7.1 percent in 2022, while heavy “episodic” alcohol consumption also reduced from 23.5 in 2013 to 15.2 percent in 2022

Uwinkindi called for collective efforts in combating NCDs risk factors, saying it cannot be done by the Ministry of Health alone.

“Many of the things we are talking about for example smoking, alcohol consumption, lack of enough physical exercise, obesity, and so on, actually don’t fall into the health ministry’s work alone. To fight NCDs, we are required to work collectively,” he noted.

Globally, an estimated 41 million people die every year due to the NCDs.

In Rwanda, heart diseases, cancer, diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases like asthma and other non-infectious diseases accounted for 44 per cent of all deaths in 2016, according to estimates by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The Ministry of health says the number of patients with heart diseases treated in Rwandan hospitals more than tripled between 2018 and 2020, from 25,353 to 88,486.

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