The grand opening of the first KFC restaurant in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, last year drew a serious crowd.

Most of the diners admitted they had been drawn by the "hype" but a year on KFC is still full and has opened several more outlets. The opening was broadly seen as Kenya catching up with the rest of the world, another signpost on the way to middle-income status rather than any cause for health concerns.

People looking for answers to why Africa has gone from hunger crises to mounting obesity without passing through a healthy nutrition phase tend to focus on the same tired "African exceptionalism" used to explain poverty levels or civil wars. Some point to cultural differences, wondering whether the weight gain is associated with wealth and prosperity rather than idleness.

But what the rising obesity rates reveal are consumer habits that broadly follow those seen elsewhere. The same factors, such as increasing urbanisation in sub-Saharan Africa, are creating the fat.


Africa has more cities of over a million people than China and a larger collective middle class than India. Convenience foods full of fat and starch are waiting in the cities for the arrivals who can afford them. Obesity rates broadly follow GDP per capita, with sub-Saharan Africa's biggest economy, South Africa, having by far the biggest problem. Other emerging economies, such as Kenya, are following suit.

If a pan-African middle class is emerging, it is most visible on satellite television where adverts imploring mothers to feed up their kids are giving way to those telling people to watch their weight.

- Independent