Project Lead(s): Jude Saji, Felix Kembe Assah
Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease are a challenge for Africa, due to changing lifestyles. Sedentary lifestyles, poor diet and obesity aggravate this problem.
About 50% of Cameroon’s urban women are overweight/obese, while 30.5% of men and 47.6% of women in Cameroon are sedentary.
Most Cameroonians are unaware of their body fat status and the health implications.
At present, body composition monitors are limited to clinical settings for management of chronic conditions such as diabetes.
The purpose of this project was to encourage Cameroonians to become and stay active by educating them on the relationship between body fat, exercise and health, as well as by providing simple equipment for body fat monitoring.
It was anticipated that a better understanding of the health risks of obesity and using personal risk measurement would promote more regular exercising and healthy weight maintenance.
Eighteen fitness clubs (total membership of 638 men and women at baseline) located in two Cameroonian cities (Yaoundé and Bamenda) were selected as the location for the intervention.
Body fat machines were provided to 12 of the 18 fitness clubs and members of these fitness clubs were provided with access to these machines for use in monitoring their body fat levels.
Weekly text messages were sent to members of six of the exercise clubs (n = 178) with content specifically tailored to serve as exercise reminders and for motivation, as well as to provide information on the benefits of exercise and healthy eating.
A 12-month follow-up of all fitness groups taking part in the project was completed, and baseline data was analyzed.
Feedback was provided to all participants, with individually-tailored health-improvement recommendations based on the results of their body fat measurements.
Results of the study demonstrated that there was an increased awareness regarding weight status and disease risk among members of participating clubs.
Having had their body fat levels measured at least once made them aware of the negative health effects of excess body fat.
Members now have free access to portable, battery-powered body fat monitors at 12 of the 18 clubs.
An increased capacity of selected club members to educate peers was recorded, as two members of each club that received a body fat monitor were taught how to conduct measurements and interpret results.
Results of the study will contribute to the knowledge base needed to curb the growing problem of obesity and related risks in Cameroon.
The project team intends to apply for Phase II funding to Grand Challenges Canada to scale up the project. They also plan to disseminate their findings with policy makers and the population.