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Egypt and South Africa drive Africa’s diabetes epidemic

South Africa and Egypt lead the rise in obesity and diabetes on the African continent, an extensive continental study has found.

A total of 1.24 million Africans were examined for obesity and 182,000 for diabetes in the study led by researchers from South Africa and the UK.

The results, published on 4 June, show that the growth in diabetes among North Africans and Southern African women outpaced the global average between 1980 and 2014.

“At any given time, estimates in Northern Africa (driven by Egypt) and in Southern Africa (driven by South Africa) appeared higher than the global average, whereas estimates for other regions were mostly lower,” the paper states.

The study illustrates the rise of non-communicable diseases in Africa, which the World Health Organization has warned might kill more Africans than do infectious diseases in years to come.

The project was funded by the South African Medical Research Council and the UK-based Wellcome Trust, and led by Andre Pascal Kengne from the SAMRC and James Bentham from Imperial College, London.

The authors blame diet and sedentary lifestyles for the North’s rise in obesity and diabetes, while in South Africa they put it down to urbanisation and the shift to more affluent lifestyles.

While other regions in Africa were found to be generally below the global numbers for both indicators, obesity numbers doubled for both men and women in Africa from 1980 to 2014.

“The prevalence of diabetes is substantial and possibly growing faster than elsewhere, probably triggered by increasing obesity. This study highlights the urgent need for locally relevant knowledge, supportive policies, adequately equipped health services and optimal social and physical environments,” the authors say.