Public health and nutrition experts have warned of an impending rise in the incidence of obesity hypertension and diabetes in the coming months as a result of the lifestyle of many Nigerians during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The experts, Prof. Ignatius Onimawo, the Vice-Chancellor, Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State and Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist, Cynthia Onyekwere, said many Nigerian will come down with these conditions because of their dietary habits and lack of physical exercise in this period of the viral pandemic.
According to Onimawo, who is a professor of public health nutrition, the COVID-19 pandemic will worsen obesity in the country as many people now consume more foods while working from home and engaging less in physical activities.
Prof. Onimawo, said the increase in obesity will also trigger a rise in non-communicable diseases, such as hypertension, diabetes and other cardiovascular diseases.
Onimawo said that Nigerians must start shunning sedentary lifestyle if the nation wants to avert the looming rise in these conditions.
The VC, who is also a former President of Nutrition Society of Nigeria, said, “The people in the high-class community that have access to a lot of food will have a problem with obesity because, in most of the buildings, there is no space for exercise.
“A lot of people go to the gym once or twice a day to exercise, but because of the lockdown, they are in their homes and cannot go out to exercise.
“Even those who used to skip meals before cannot skip anymore because they are at home with their families.
“They now have their breakfast, lunch, dinner and sometimes they even have in-between-meals.
“So, physically, many people are not very active now and therefore, will have more fat deposition after COVID-19.”
A World Health Organisation data in 2016 showed that 26 per cent of Nigerian adults were either obese or overweight.
According to the World Obesity Federation, the pandemic risks worsening the situation.
Giving insight into the possible risk of obesity and its attendant health consequences during this period, the VC explained, “When energy expenditure is lower than the energy intake from food, the result is that energy will be deposited.
“Now, the excess energy is converted to fat and deposited.
“So, if that continues for over a period of time as it has been for over two months period of the lockdown, the tendency is that people will come of out of COVID-19 weighing more than they were, heavier more than they were and deposit more fat than they were before the lockdown.
“And when that happens, a lot of things will come into play.
“Now, if the person’s Body Mass Index is higher than normal – between 18 to 24.5 – when it is more than this range and is getting to 30, you will be talking about obesity type one.
“When it gets to 40, you will be talking about types two and three.
“Generally, because of high food intake and less physical activities, the tendency is that the extra energy taken for food will be converted to fat.
“That normally happens under a normal circumstance.”
According to him, the scenario is not only for those who have food.
“There are also people who are rationing food as a result of the lockdown.
“So, for such people, you cannot be talking of obesity; rather, you will be talking about the loss of weight because of lack of energy intake also known as undernutrition.
“That can happen to the middle or low-income group whose foods have been exhausted and there is no means of getting another one because their businesses have been closed due to the lockdown.
“The tendency is that such people will be suffering from malnutrition.
“So, we are going to be having double burden where you have obesity side by side with malnutrition”, he said.
The nutrition expert noted, “For those that will have obesity, they will be exposed to a lot of health conditions which can manifest in non-communicable diseases.
“It can lead to hypertension and when hypertension is persistent, it can lead to cardiovascular diseases.
“Obesity can predispose someone to diabetes. So these are some of the diseases that could manifest as a result of weight gain and an increase in obesity.
“With a rise in obesity, we are definitely going to witness a rise in hypertension and diabetes because obesity predisposes people to both conditions.”
Continuing, Prof. Onimawo, said, “On the other side of the pendulum, people who do not have means of survival; food is not there; money is not there are also at risk of hypertension and malnutrition.
“Malnutrition can happen and when you are malnourished, you will not be able to lead a fulfilled life.
“For a malnourished pregnant woman, a lot of gamut of activities will take place.
“First, the baby in the womb will be malnourished and a malnourished baby will not have a normal size of heart, lungs, kidney, pancreas and these are very important organs of the body.”
Recommending the way forward, the VC called for an increase in nutrition education, high intake of fruits and vegetables plus regular exercise.
According to him, Nigerians do not need a football field before engaging in regular exercise.
“People should exercise in their rooms, no matter how small. It’s all about commitment and consistency.
“Again, people should deliberately reduce their calorie intake and consume more of fruits and vegetables”, the nutritionist added.
Also speaking, Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist, Onyekwere, gave reasons for the projected rise in obesity in the country.
“Obesity is likely to be on the rise. The reason for this is not far-fetched.
“When people are bored or idle, they tend to eat more frequently and also opt for unhealthy foods such as junk food and drinks.
“In addition, some people are turning to food as an escape route from the psychological effects of the pandemic and the lockdown on them,” she said.
Onyekwere, therefore, urged households with low income to prioritise their food and plan an adequate meal within their budget, stressing that a meal does not have to be expensive in order to be healthy