Urban diets and nutrition

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IN recent decades, there has been an unprecedented urban population growth across the globe. Since the early 1990s, Zimbabwe has experienced urban growth, with the urban population standing at three million in 1990.

By 2015, more than five million people were estimated to have been living in urban centres.

The population boom has given rise to a number of problems, chiefly among them malnutrition and diet-related non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

While most nutrition experts agree that a balanced and nutritious diet is the best way to obtain the much needed nutrients, most Zimbabweans’ diet is mostly high on calories and short on nutrients.

Alcohol abuse, high-fat diets and physical inactivity – all lifestyle behaviours – have been identified as the major drivers of NCDs in Zimbabwe.

Diseases linked to lifestyle choices, including diabetes and some cancers, killed 138 000 people in Zimbabwe in 2014, as morbidity and mortality cases for NCDs continue to increase at an alarming rate.

The four main NCDs are cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes and chronic lung diseases.

The Health and Child Care Ministry’s family health director, Dr Bernard Madzima, said lifestyle diseases are a major threat to public health.

“The increase in NCDs is a slow-motion disaster, as most of these diseases develop over time. But unhealthy lifestyles that fuel these diseases are spreading like a veld fire,” he said.

“Most of these diseases are, to an extent, preventable. By being informed, making conscious diet and exercise decisions, and being proactive about their health, individuals can do a lot to prevent NCDs.”

Research has shown that low-income countries are often hardest hit by NCDs. Annually, NCDs account for 40 million deaths.

Almost two thirds of all deaths in the developing world, which is about 23 million each year, have been attributed to NCDs.

NCDs are a medical condition or disease which is non-infectious. They take long to show signs and symptoms.

Besides being preventable, these diseases are now the leading cause of death and disability.

The Cancer Association of Zimbabwe monitoring and evaluation officer, Mr Lovemore Makurirofa, challenged the nation to adopt healthy diets.

“Cancer, like most NCDs, are lifestyle-related diseases and I strongly feel that it’s high time people live healthy lifestyles,” he said.

“I also challenge the nation to revert back to the traditional diets that our ancestors used to have and also implement diets high in vegetables, fruits and roughage content.”

The Micro-Nutrient Survey (2012) indicated that stunting stands at 30 percent, Vitamin A deficiency at 21 percent, iron deficiency at 72 percent and anaemia at 31 percent in children under five.

A lot of attention in the health sector the world over has been centred on HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and malaria while the most chronic diseases are being side-lined.

It is projected that by 2050, 66 percent of the world’s population will be living in urban areas, with 2,5 billion urban residents in Africa and Asia.

Upon receiving the World Food Prize, Dr Dr Akinwumi Adesina, the African Development Bank president, said a crisis related to urban malnutrition is looming. “There is an urgent need for better urban governance around food, nutrition and health,” he said.

“Urban populations need improved information on how to live well by eating well.”

Malnutrition increases the likelihood of non-communicable diseases in later life, such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. – Sunday Mail