Overweight and obesity are significant causes of increased morbidity and premature mortality from non-communicable diseases, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, although local high quality population-based data to inform policies and strategies are lacking.
Using the WHO STEPwise approach to chronic disease risk factor surveillance, population-based nationwide survey was conducted on participants aged 25-64 years in Malawi. A multi-stage cluster sample design and weighting were used to produce a national representative data for that age range.
A total of 4845 participants (65.7% females, 87.6% from rural areas) had complete anthropometric data and included in this analysis. Overall (both sexes) population-based mean body weight, height, systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol were estimated at 58.7 kg, 159.9 cm, 133.4 mmHg, 79.5 mmHg, 4.3 mmol/L, 4.4 mmol/L respectively. Prevalence of underweight, overweight, obesity, overweight and/ or obesity and central adiposity were 6.5%, 17.3%, 4.6%, 21.9% and 28.8% respectively. Overweight, obesity, overweight and/ or obesity and central adiposity were more frequent in females than males (20.7% vs 14.1%, 7.4% vs 2.0%, 28.1% vs 16.1% and 52.8% vs 5.6%), in urban than rural areas (23.2% vs 16.6%, 12.0% vs 3.7%, 35.2% vs 20.2%) respectively.
This study demonstrated that overweight and/ or obesity is the major public health problem affecting at least one in five adults in Malawi. The problem is more frequent in females than males and urban than rural. Implementation of primary health care approaches such as WHO package for essential non-communicable diseases could reduce the problem.