The new lifestyle health challenges of Africa’s rising middle class


Africa’s health challenges are well documented – or at least some of them are. The international community is used to talking about Africa’s struggles with HIV, cholera and other crippling diseases but there’s a rising health problem threatening the continent’s growing middle class.

Medically speaking, these aren’t contagious diseases but they are transmitted from person-to-person in a more subtle sense. These are lifestyle diseases that spread throughout society and pass down through generations, largely unnoticed until it’s too late for the individual and society itself.

They go hand-in-hand with the middle-class lifestyle that is spreading throughout the developing world and starting to impact people’s health in the same way they have done in the Western world for decades now. Which makes for a nasty combination when much of Africa still struggles to protect the more rural and undeveloped parts of the continent from the horrendous diseases more regularly make the headlines.


A growing taste for alcohol

According to an article published by Quartz yesterday, “the alcohol industry is doing exactly what the tobacco industry did several decades ago to ensure growth and increase profits: expanding into Africa as an underdeveloped market.”

The industry has previous too.

With alcohol sales falling for the first time in 20 years in 2016, the industry is facing a new kind of pressure to expand and its the developing regions of Africa and Asia that are seen as the lifelines for the likes of Heineken and Diageo PLC.

While developed nations like the UK are reviewing guidelines for the marketing and sale of alcohol, much of Africa is only just starting its love affair with commercial drinking. Less regulation means more freedom for the leading companies and growing middle classes present the opportunity for them to establish themselves as the go-to brand for people in a rising market.

Unfortunately, their new target audiences are next in line for the string of health implications that come with alcohol consumption. Concern over these companies’ marketing strategies in Africa and similar markets has reached UN-level talks:


We emphasise the rise in sales of these unhealthy commodities in low-income and middle-income countries, and consider the common strategies that the transnational corporations use to undermine NCD prevention and control. –


While Western countries are constantly learning about the extent of health implication alcohol consumption can cause, people in African and other developing areas aren’t so fortunate with their access to information. However, the supply of alcohol is flowing like never before and the marketing is more aggressive than ever.


Gambling addiction in Africa

One lifestyle health concern that is gaining a lot of attention in Africa is gambling addiction – something that affects a growing number of young people across the continent, thanks to the rise of online sports gambling.

There are various reports of students attempting to pay for their fees through gambling profits, African’s playing their hand at professional gambling and countless stories of people hoping to get rich quick.

Of course, the only winner in gambling is the company you place your bet with, but there’s more than money at stake when placing bets turns into addiction. Aside from the money people waste, they lose valuable time that could be spent actually studying or working towards something more constructive. Instead, a growing number of houses are being mortgaged and possessions sold to fund the next string of bets.

Smartphone addiction

Another problem that’s fuelling Africa’s gambling troubles is the rise of smartphone addiction across the continent. However, this health concern spreads far beyond the concerns of gambling alone, seeping into the lives of people who have never placed a bet in their lives.

According to GeoPoll research, 81% of Sub-Saharan African millennials questioned place their phones next to their bed while sleeping, 48% use their phones in the bathroom and 31% walk around with a power bank to keep their phones running.

Like most social health concerns, smartphone addiction is a global issue – but Africa’s battle with the phenomenon is particularly intense. Africa is one of the most pioneering regions of the world when it comes to mobile technology and connectivity is rapidly expanding. Smartphone penetration across the continent doubled between 2011 and 2013 as handset prices continue to drop and adoption steadily rises.

Dietary diseases

Dietary concerns in Africa normally focus on malnutrition and other condition related to insufficient food supplies. However, Africa’s rising middle class is diversifying the dietary landscape across the continent. While a growing population now enjoys a balanced and healthy diet, there’s also an increase in diabetes, heart diseases, cancers and other issues related to poor diet.

Obesity is one the rise in Africa as rapid economic growth outpaces people’s ability to healthily adjust to it.

Africa is expected to have the world’s largest increase in noncommunicable diseases over the next decade, becoming the leading causes of death y 2030. For many countries, that are still grappling with food shortages and diseases like malaria, cholera and AIDS/HIV in parts, the rise of lifestyle illnesses make for a worryingly complex future for healthcare across Africa.

By 2030 we could have countries experiencing famine at one extreme and an obesity crisis at the other.


Featured image: Public domain

About Aaron Brooks

Aaron Brooks is a UK journalist who wants to cut out the international agendas in news. Spending his early years in both England and Northern Ireland he saw the difference between reality and media coverage at an early age. After graduating from the University of Chester with a BA in journalism, his travels revealed just how large the gap between news and the real world can be. As Editor-in-Chief at East Africa Monitor, it’s his job to provide a balanced view of what’s going on in the region for English-speaking audiences.