Kigali's new problem: Rise of lifestyle diseases among youth

Monday September 13 2021
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Patients wait at a Rwandan hospital. Health awareness campaigns recognise the importance of nutrition and should promote healthy diets and physical activity. PHOTO | FILE

By Ange Iliza

At the age of 24, Huguette (surnamewithheld) weighs 107 kilogrammes. She has attempted to cut weight multiple times before but to no avail.

She has asthma and doctors have warned her of getting diabetes soon if her weight stays the same or increases.

Her doctor believes that Huguette’s lifestyle exposes her to the risk of gaining even more weight not because she eats too much food but because she eats unhealthy food.

“I live alone near my school in Kigali and I rarely cook. My friends and I often order or eat out,” Huguette narrates in an interview, adding that her meals are made up of chips, burgers and sodas.

Huguette represents an increasing percentage of young people in Rwanda who are growing obese. The Rwanda Demographic and Health Survey found out that 9.3 percent of adult women and 1.9 percent of adult men are obese.

The numbers are more worrying for women: The prevalence of a woman being overweight or obese increased from 3.1 percent in 2000 to 9.1 percent in 2016.


Rise in obesity and overweight people medically translated into an increase in non-communicable diseases.

Private Kamanzi, a professional nutritionist in Kigali, explained that it is even more worrying to see unhealthy lifestyle related diseases more in younger people.

During his six years as a nutritionist, he has been receiving clients as young as 15 years old seeking dietary advice or help with cutting down their weight.

He suggests that health awareness campaigns recognise the importance of nutrition and should promote healthy diets and physical activity.

A rapid economy with booming industrialization and service sector leads to more people moving from physically demanding jobs to knowledge-based labour. With economic statuses improving, people move from no food to expensive, beautifully packaged, sweetened and fattened food.

This scenario has started manifesting in Kigali what with the presence of fast food companies.

It is, however, not just food. At Kigali’s first health hub, the majority of clients come with musculo-skeletal and postural problems.

These come from sitting for hours and lack of physical activity. Gabriella Nandi, psychotherapist founder and manager of The Health Hub that an increasing number of people as young as 28 years old come to the hub with joint pain and weight issues.

“There is an assumption that non-communicable diseases are for older people. People’s lifestyles are changing and so are their health statuses,” Nandi said.