The Changemaker Project Addresses Adolescent Obesity and Noncommunicable Diseases in Urban Africa to Empower Youth for Better Health.

Last week, 19th to 22nd February 2024, was an exciting moment to witness the groundbreaking launch of an initiative with a vision to transform the health landscape for young people in Burkina Faso, Kenya, and Tanzania. The European Union-funded, Changemaker Project kicked off at the esteemed Safari Park Hotel, signaling the start of a collaborative effort to address the mounting risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) among teenagers.

I cannot stress how urgent it is to fight teenage obesity and the health problems it poses. The rate of teenage obesity has been alarmingly rising across metropolitan Africa in recent years. The WHO reports that since 2000, the frequency of obesity among teenagers aged 5 to 19 has almost doubled worldwide. Furthermore, Global estimates warrant that approximately 1.9 billion adults are classified as overweight or obese worldwide, representing a two-fold increase since 1980 (WHO, 2017)

Giving my contributions during the CHANGEMAKER Kick Off Meeting at Safari Park Hotel, Nairobi, Kenya.

In low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), prevalence rates for overweight and obesity are increasing. There is a growing roadmap of research on the prevalence rates of overweight and obesity in Kenya in particular.

Since 2000, there have been around 24 percent more overweight children under five in sub-Saharan Africa alone. This concerning trend not only adds to the burden of NCDs but also paves the way for an adult lifelong battle with obesity and the health issues that come with it.

Adolescent obesity has considerably more effects than just one's physical well-being. Adolescent weight status has a significant impact on socioeconomic prospects, academic achievement, and psychological well-being. Additionally, the financial. Furthermore, NCDs can place a crippling financial strain on families and healthcare systems, which feeds the cycle of inequality and poverty.

Understanding the complexity of this issue, the Changemaker Project takes a comprehensive strategy that is based on adolescent co-creation and empowerment. The initiative intends to address current health inequities and develop a generation of changemakers capable of leading healthier lives and advocating for their communities by actively including teenagers in the design and implementation of sustainable health interventions.

The project's main goal is to put into practice and assess a complete program for health intervention that emphasizes nutrition, environmental sustainability, and health education. It will further build health by addressing several health variables at once, such as food practices and environmental factors, to create a long-lasting behavioural shift and encourage favourable health results.

Young changemakers will be equipped to lead significant change in their communities through a series of interactive seminars, community engagement events, and capacity-building programs. The project also seeks to have an impact on teenagers that goes well beyond the time of the intervention by helping them develop a sense of agency and ownership.

CHANGEMAKER Consortium members pose for a photo during the Kick meeting at Safari Park Hotel, Nairobi Kenya.

Ending NCDs by 2030
I am confident that in the battle against teenage obesity and NCDs in urban Africa, this initiative is a ray of hope since it is utilizing the combined strength of youth, academia, and community stakeholders. It establishes a standard for collaborative, community-driven solutions to challenge public health issues with its bold goals and creative approaches.

The Changemaker Project is a living example of the transforming power of youth empowerment and group action as we embark on this journey. By making investments in the health and welfare of today's youth, we plant the seeds for future generations to enjoy greater health and equity.

The goal of reducing non-communicable disease (NCD)-related premature deaths by one-third by 2030 is noble, but it is achievable with more adoption of a few cost-effective interventions, particularly in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

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