Childhood Obesity Prevention in Africa: A Systematic Review of Intervention Effectiveness and Implementation

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 Apr 4;16(7):1212. doi: 10.3390/ijerph16071212.


Childhood obesity is of increasing concern in many parts of Africa. We conducted a systematic search and review of published literature on behavioural childhood obesity prevention interventions. A literature search identified peer-reviewed literature from seven databases, and unindexed African journals, including experimental studies targeting children age 2-18 years in African countries, published in any language since 1990. All experimental designs were eligible; outcomes of interest were both behavioural (physical activity, dietary behaviours) and anthropometric (weight, body mass index, body composition). We also searched for process evaluations or other implementation observations. Methodological quality was assessed; evidence was synthesised narratively as a meta-analysis was not possible. Seventeen articles describing 14 interventions in three countries (South Africa, Tunisia and Uganda) were included. Effect scores indicated no overall effect on dietary behaviours, with some beneficial effects on physical activity and anthropometric outcomes. The quality of evidence was predominantly weak. We identified barriers and facilitators to successful interventions, and these were largely resource-related. Our systematic review highlights research gaps in targeting alternative settings to schools, and younger age groups, and a need for more rigorous designs for evaluating effectiveness. We also recommend process evaluations being used more widely.

Keywords: behavioural intervention; dietary behaviour; intervention evaluation; low- and middle-income countries (LMIC); physical activity; school setting; sedentary.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Africa
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Weight
  • Child
  • Diet
  • Exercise
  • Humans
  • Pediatric Obesity / prevention & control*
  • School Health Services*
  • Schools