The nutrition transition in Africa: can it be steered into a more positive direction?

Nutrients. 2011 Apr;3(4):429-41. doi: 10.3390/nu3040429. Epub 2011 Apr 11.


The objective of this narrative review is to examine the nutrition transition and its consequences when populations in Africa modernize as a result of socio-economic development, urbanization, and acculturation. The focus is on the changes in dietary patterns and nutrient intakes during the nutrition transition, the determinants and consequences of these changes as well as possible new approaches in public health nutrition policies, interventions and research needed to steer the nutrition transition into a more positive direction in Africa. The review indicates that non-communicable, nutrition-related diseases have emerged in sub-Saharan Africa at a faster rate and at a lower economic level than in industrialized countries, before the battle against under-nutrition has been won. There is a putative epigenetic link between under- and over-nutrition, explaining the double burden of nutrition-related diseases in Africa. It is concluded that it is possible to steer the nutrition transition into a more positive direction, provided that some basic principles in planning public health promotion strategies, policies and interventions are followed. It is suggested that sub-Saharan African countries join forces to study the nutrition transition and implemented interventions on epidemiological, clinical and molecular (genetic) level for better prevention of both under- and over-nutrition.

Keywords: South Africa; PLAY-study; PURE-study; THUSA BANA-study; THUSA-study; cardiovascular disease; nutrient intakes; nutrition transition; obesity; type 2 diabetes mellitus.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Africa / epidemiology
  • Developing Countries
  • Diet*
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Malnutrition / epidemiology
  • Nutrition Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Nutrition Policy
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Overnutrition / epidemiology
  • Social Change
  • Urbanization