PLoS ONE: Perceptions of obesity among women in Zambia

2 January, 2019

Many women in Zambia have a preference to be obese and “looks attractive” and “fear of being perceived as HIV-positive” were the main reasons. This is the key finding of a new paper from Zambia. The implications for control of non-communicable diseases are clear. This paper is published in the relatively low-visibility journal PLoS ONE, but it deserves greater exposure.

CITATION: Obesity matters but is not perceived: A cross-sectional study on cardiovascular disease risk factors among a population-based probability sample in rural Zambia

Yukiko Tateyama et al.

Published: November 29, 2018


Background: Sub-Saharan Africa, including Zambia, has experienced an increase in overweight and obesity due to rapid lifestyle changes associated with recent economic growth. We explored the prevalence and correlates of overweight and obesity in rural Zambia. We also investigated the role of self-perception of body weight in weight control given the local socio-cultural context.

Methods: In this cross-sectional study, we recruited 690 residents of the Mumbwa district aged 25–64 years through a multistage, clustered, household random sampling. We administered a questionnaire and collected anthropometric and bio-behavioral data from May to July 2016. Factors associated with body mass index (BMI) ≥25 kg/m2 and underestimation of body weight were assessed using multiple logistic regression.

Results: Of the weighted sample of 689 participants (335 men and 354 women), 185 (26.8%) had BMI ≥25 kg/m2. In multivariate analyses, female gender, age 45–64 years, tertiary education, higher fruit and vegetable intake, high blood pressure, abnormal blood lipid profile, and Hemoglobin A1c ≥5.7% were significantly associated with BMI ≥25 kg/m2. Among participants with BMI ≥25 kg/m2, 14.2% and 58.2% perceived themselves as being underweight and normal weight, respectively. Age 45–64 years was the only factor significantly associated with body weight underestimation. Preference for obesity was reported by 17.5% and 3.6% of respondents with BMI <25 kg/m2 and BMI≥25 kg/m2, respectively; “looks attractive” and “fear of being perceived as HIV-positive” were the main reasons.

Conclusion: In rural Zambia, overweight and obesity are prevalent and significantly associated with alterations in blood pressure, blood lipid profile, and glucose metabolism. However, most subjects with BMI ≥25 kg/m2 underestimated their body weight; some preferred obesity, in part due to cultural factors and HIV-related stigma. A health promotion program that addresses such perceptions and body weight underestimation should be urgently introduced in Zambia.

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: /