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BMC Public Health. 2016 Jan 13;16:30. doi: 10.1186/s12889-016-2698-5.

Overweight and obesity among women: analysis of demographic and health survey data from 32 Sub-Saharan African Countries.

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School of Health Sciences, FI - 33014 University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland.
School of Health Sciences, FI - 33014 University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland.
Department of Population and Health, University of Cape Coast, Private Mail Bag, University Post Office, Cape Coast, Ghana.



Overweight and obesity are risk factors for many chronic diseases globally. However, the extent of the problem in low-income countries like Sub-Saharan Africa is unclear. We assessed the magnitude and disparity of both phenomena by place of residence, level of education and wealth quintile using cross-sectional data from 32 countries.


Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) data collected in 32 Sub-Saharan African countries between January 2005 and December 2013 were used. A total of 250651 women (aged 15-49 years) were analyzed. Trained personnel using a standardized procedure measured body weight and height. Body mass index (BMI) was calculated by dividing body weight by height squared. Prevalence of overweight (25.0-29.9 kg/m(2)) and obesity (≥ 30.0 kg/m(2)) were estimated for each country. Analysis of the relationships of overweight and obesity with place of residence, education and wealth index were carried out using logistic regression.


The pooled prevalence of overweight for the region was 15.9% (95% CI, 15.7-16.0) with the lowest in Madagascar 5.6% (95% CI, 5.1-6.1) and the highest in Swaziland 27.7% (95% CI, 26.4-29.0). Similarly, the prevalence of obesity was also lowest in Madagascar 1.1% (95% CI, 0.9-1.4) and highest in Swaziland 23.0 (95% CI, 21.8-24.2). The women in urban residence and those who were classified as rich, with respect to the quintile of the wealth index, had higher likelihood of overweight and obesity. In the pooled results, high education was significantly associated with overweight and obesity.


The prevalence of overweight and obesity varied highly between the countries and wealth index (rich vs. poor) was found to be the strongest predictor in most of the countries. Interventions that will address the socio-cultural barriers to maintaining healthy body size can contribute to curbing the overweight and obesity epidemic in Africa.

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