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Health | Agriculture - Nutrition | Science - Education

"Overweight girls, undernourished boys" in Cameroon

afrol News, 12 February - A new study, the first of its kind in Cameroon, reveals how new nutritional trends in Central Africa are causing problems of both over- and undernourished school children.

Léonie Nzefa Dapi this month presented her dissertation about nutritional trends in Cameroon at the Swedish University of Umeå. Her first-ever study of nourishment among Cameroonian teens demonstrates a developing country at its crossroads between old poverty problems and new lifestyle challenges.

There are major differences in how well nourished Cameroonian teenagers are, Ms Dapi found. Differences between city/countryside, boys/girls, and among individuals with high and low socio-economic status were the most striking.

Cameroon's populations are changing their eating habits. Instead of traditional diets, many are consuming more and more processed, sweet, and fat foods, Ms Dapi observed. The rapid shift in dietary habits is taking place at the same time as people are getting less and less physically active. Health problems related to lifestyle are thus getting firmly settled in Cameroon.

"This has resulted in a rather high incidence of overweight individuals, high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, and type-2 diabetes," she found. Nutrition is known to be important during the adolescence period for growth, health, cognitive development, and school achievement.

In her study, Ms Dapi focused on estimating boys' and girls' dietary intake, body measurements, and physical activity in various social groups and to study how teenagers, in cities and in the countryside, perceive food.

Modern lifestyle challenges are on a strong increase, she found, especially among girls. The percentage of overweight was three times higher among girls (14 percent) than among boys (4 percent), the study results show.

But also under-nourishment maintains a problem. More than half of Cameroonian youths had a protein intake below recommendations. Stunted growth was twice as common among urban teenagers with low socioeconomic status (12 percent) compared to those with high status (5 percent).

Rural youths were found to have more muscle mass than urban youths. In rural areas they ate to survive and maintain their health. Urban youths with low socioeconomic status also ate to maintain their health, while those of higher status ate for fun.

More than 30 percent of youth in cities skipped breakfast, Ms Dapi found. Urban adolescents with high socioeconomic status, and girls, reported more often that they ate snacks and most food groups.

Fat intake varied very much between groups of teens. 26 percent of youngsters had a fat intake below recommendations, and one fourth had a fat intake above recommendations. A major proportion of the teenagers had an intake of micronutrients that was below the recommended level. Boys and youths with low socioeconomic status reported higher energy burning and physical activity than girls and youths with high socioeconomic status.

"The study shows that nutritional deficiency, stunting, and obesity as well as excess weight were common among teenagers in Cameroon," Ms Dapi concludes. "It is therefore necessary to set up preventive programmes targeting both over- and undernourished school children," she recommends.

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