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Africa's growing middleclass midriff

I was exploring Nairobi sometime ago when I gradually noticed that alongside the pumping traffic, the glitzy cafes and spinning new developments, was an interesting silhouette. Infact thousands of them. With some shock I realised the shadows were reflections of the people busily making their way through this bustling city. And to my consternation, these shadows including mine, were ... a tad ... rotund.

Yes, fellow Africans! We're getting fat!!

And it's not because we're not aware that or growing midriffs are a problem. Infact I hear it all the time from friends and myself – we know that we're overweight but we're all too busy at work to get a grip on our weight and fitness.

Actually, I would call it the “factors” for fitness. In other words, too busy translated directly to too busy to get the right food stocked, too busy to get regular activity and exercise, and too busy to get enough sleep.

A study in the International Journal of Obesity analysed this problem. In brief, a group of 40 – 60 year old women and men were studied for their weight gain during a previous 12 month period via questionnaire.

(Reference: Intl J of Obesity (2005) (01 Aug 2005 29, 909–915. Psychosocial working conditions and weight gain among employees. T Lallukka, M Laaksonen, P Martikainen, S Sarlio-Lähteenkorva, E Lahelma)

The variables included 7 factors:

  1. job demands

  2. job control

  3. work fatigue

  4. working overtime

  5. work-related mental strain

  6. social support, and

  7. work–home interface.

Can you relate?

The results were then adjusted for age, education, marital status, physical strain and body mass index.

I’m betting you’ve already guessed the results – for who of has haven’t faced this challenge of balancing work life, home life, and health priorities?


In the previous 12 months, 25% of women and 19% of men reported weight gain. Work fatigue and working overtime were associated with weight gain in both sexes. Women who were dissatisfied with combining paid work and family life were more likely to have gained weight. Men with low job demands were less likely to have gained weight. All of these associations were independent of each other.

The study concluded that work fatigue and working overtime are risk factors for weight gain.

But we knew that, didn’t we?

So why aren't we changing? Why are we, in Africa, becoming increasingly overworked and overweight?

Have we become so focused on making it happen, on pulling in the coin, that we've completely neglected our health and fitness - the very vehicle that will ensure we stick round long enough to enjoy all these things we're working so hard for (but not at our best efficiency?)

The fact of the matter is we have to do more than just aspire to be energetic, healthy, and trim – we must get off our bottoms and prioritise our own health care. For example, I remember during days of gym membership, I’d leave the house with all of my teaching tools of the trade and a bag of good food for the day (that’s whole other blogpost- or 20!) along with my gym bag planted firmly on the floor of the passenger side of my car for obvious reminder.

In the morning, it always seemed so clear – full of optimism and energy for the day, I could easily envision myself pumping through whatever workout I had planned for later in the day.

It wasn’t quite so easy when it got to late afternoon after a full day’s work and I really just wanted to take a nap. Know what I mean? But I was somehow always (almost) able to look beyond my impulse to bolt for the couch by seeing forward into how I would feel after having completed my planned exercise.

Africa, we need to do more to get our health front and centre. Doing so will actually make us more productive, more energetic, more focused and as a result, more successful!


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