Changing Dietary Pattern, Lifestyle - Is there any Health Risk?

Just Few weeks back, I was talking to Engida Mekonnen, a long-time family friend who runs a butcher shop with a bar and restaurant as a single business entity in a nearby neighborhood in Northern Addis Ababa. Many of his customers love the expertly sliced raw meat that he butters generously and serves with a mix of hot and spicy sauce. His business unit, which is a replica of similar business outlets propping up in the city, stocks different types of alcoholic drinks. 

Engida took over the business from his father, who was among a handful of butchers in the area few years back. According to his observation, the recent mushrooming of butcheries in his neighborhood is paralleled with a sudden rise in customers frequenting the different delicacies despite the ever increasing prices of raw meat and alcohol drinks. 

This is the general trend across the city with most urbanites frequenting such places regularly. Additionally, Addis Ababa has also recently experienced the opening of a number of ‘fast-food’ outlets and pastries, especially in major downtown neighborhoods and they are becoming very popular with both the young and adults who are also seen enjoying in those places with their kids. 

The portion sizes of foods and drinks are gradually changing and increasingly fizzy drinks are becoming easily available in nearby kiosks at reasonably low prices.  Similarly, once dominated by few local brands with limited production capacity, the alcohol industry is experiencing the introduction of famous international brands with sophisticated marketing styles.

One could only ponder if our dietary and lifestyle patterns are changing and if the change is happening very fast. Care should be exercised before reaching a conclusion of generalization without conducting a formal study. However, chances are that such foods could be high in saturated fats and rich in calories, which may be harmful to one’s health if consumed regularly.

The norm few years back was eating home prepared meals. However, our dietary style is shifting from simple home-made and relatively healthier diet to a complicated one that is potentially low in fruits and vegetables but high in fat, sugar and salt, as well as, dense in energy. A general trend is being observed in countries where rapid urbanization and improvement in economic growth change people’s lifestyles. 

There is now a recognition by public health professionals that poor/unhealthy nutritional intake has increased risk to population health and have warned against related preventable risks. Studies have shown that the consumption of fruits and vegetables is poor in Ethiopia. The dietary changes along with physical inactivity, harmful consumption of alcohol, stress and cigarette smoking predispose many to increased risk of non communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cardiovascular diseases, Type-2 Diabetes, Cancer, etc.

The World Health Organization recently reported that there were more than 1.4 billion over-weight adults in 2008 and an estimated 3.4 million adults die each year as a result of the overweight related problems. The report indicates that 44Pct of those with diabetes, 23Pct with ischemic disease and 7Pct to 41Pct with different types of cancers, are due to overweight and obesity resulting from unhealthy diet and physical inactivity. 

Developing countries like Ethiopia are said to be experiencing the double burden of diseases, where they are dealing with infectious diseases and under nutrition on one hand, while they are also experiencing a rapid upsurge of non-communicable diseases, on the other. 

In Ethiopia, non-communicable diseases are posing a formidable social and economic burden on individuals, families and the nation at large. Non-communicable diseases disproportionately affect the poor and the disadvantaged population. A considerable amount of public and private resources are being taken up for the clinical care of patients with non-communicable diseases. 

Although a national population-based study has not yet been conducted to assess the burden of diabetes in Ethiopia, global and local estimates consistently predict a rise in the prevalence of Diabetes Mellitus. The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) in 2013 estimated that there were 1.8 million people with diabetes in Ethiopia. A recent study carried out in Addis Ababa at Tikur Anbessa and St. Paul hospitals also concluded that there had been a four-fold rise in the number of admissions due to Diabetes Mellitus between 2004 and 2009.

Recognizing the social and economic burden that NCDs are posing on individuals, families and the society in Ethiopia, a national strategic action plan has been developed for preventing and controlling major NCDs in line with the recommendation of World Health Organization.

Although the concerted efforts of the government, different industries, and international and local development partners are required to tackle the impact of changing lifestyles and NCDs, much depends on what is done at the community and individual levels. 

One should opt for healthier options with regard to food consumption by avoiding foods that are rich in saturated fats and trans-fatty acids, high sugar and salt content and replacing with a relatively healthier diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables. Similarly, performing regular exercises, avoiding cigarette smoking and harmful consumption of alcohol prevent the occurrence of NCDs.

However, as much as the behavioral and lifestyle modifications done at individual and community levels are very critical, the policy environment should address the obstacles and create favourable conditions for such decisions.

2nd Year . August 2014 . No.17

Abraham Endeshaw

Abraham Endeshaw, (MD, MPh), is Medical Services Director at Ministry of Health. He can be reached at 



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