Poor diets, lack of food give households sleepless nights

Sunday March 12 2023
Obesity pic

Figures from the Ministry of Health show that obesity in Rwanda has almost doubled from 2.8 percent in 2012 to 4.3 percent in 2021. Photo by Cyril Ndegeya

By Ange Iliza

Households are facing a severe dual health crisis, with nearly 40 percent of children under five suffering from malnutrition, while the number of obese adults has doubled in the past decade.

Figures from the Ministry of Health show that obesity in Rwanda has doubled from 2.8 percent in 2012 to 4.3 per cent in 2021 with higher numbers in Kigali where 12 percent of Kigali residents were obese in 2021 up from 2 per cent in 2012.

The numbers also show that half of the women in Kigali are overweight while 21 percent are obese. On a national level, 18 per cent of Rwandans or 2.3 million people are overweight.

These startling figures have put health policymakers under pressure to act quickly and decisively to reverse the trend.

According to Rwanda's Minister of Health, Dr. Sabin Nsanzimana, the rapid increase is leading to a surge of non-communicable diseases like diabetes and hypertension.

This is the case while three in 10 children in Rwanda are malnourished, putting them at risk of chronic non-communicable diseases throughout their adult lives.


Non-communicable diseases have become the leading cause of death in the country, accounting for 40 percent of all fatalities every year. Hypertension affects 2 percent of Rwandans, diabetes has increased to 3 percent, and over 10,000 types of cancer have been identified, half of which are diagnosed.

“Most of these diseases are highly preventable. Our reports show that 40 percent of Rwandans do not exercise at all and only eat vegetables once a week on average,” Dr Nsanzimana said during the 18th National Dialogue on Tuesday in Kigali.

The Minister also categorized the issue of malnutrition among children as a concerning health crisis. He said the root causes of child malnutrition have been attributed to poor nutrition, unhygienic water, and unstable family situations.

“Malnourished children are pre-exposed to risks of chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension throughout their adult life. [...] if the current pace of tackling the issue is maintained, it could take up to 30 years for Rwanda to eradicate the problem,” the Minister warned.

Dr Francois Uwinkindi, Division Manager of Non-Communicable Diseases at Rwanda Biomedical Center told Rwanda Today that the numbers are concerning and acknowledged that policymakers need to introduce wide scale solutions.

“We already have a carefree day twice a month, Kigali Night Run, among others, to encourage exercise. But we also need to educate people on healthy diets... ” Dr Uwinkindi said.