Over a period of four years in young adults aged 18 to 39 years in urban Cameroon, our data show a rise in the prevalence of combined overweight and obesity in men from 13.9% in 2009 to 20.1% in 2012, and a rise in the prevalence of abdominal obesity in women from 6.5% in 2009 to 11.7% in 2012. We also show that the BMI and the WC are independent predictors of prevalent hypertension in this population.
Reports on adults above 20 years of age in SSA over the past decades have shown high burden of overweight, obesity and hypertension [6,7,8], as well as a worsening of obesity burden over time . As the central component of the metabolic syndrome, abdominal obesity tends to aggregate with hypertension and other cardiometabolic risk factors, and is also highly prevalent in SSA .
Preparedness to tackle obesity requires data on its burden in younger age groups (where interventions are more likely to yield benefits), as well as data on trends. The Global burden of obesity report shows that successive cohort from 1980 to 2013 in both developed and developing countries tend to gain weight at all ages, with most rapid weight gains occurring between the ages of 20 and 40 years . To that end, developed countries have assessed the trends. In the age group between 20 and 39 years in the USA, the prevalence of obesity alone increase from 23.7% in 1999–2000 to 27.5% in 2007–2008 in men and from 28.4 to 34.0% in women during the same periods, respectively . In France, data from the ObEpi survey show that the prevalence of overweight and obesity combined in adults ≥18 years rose from 46% in 2009 to 47% in 2012 . Concomitantly the waist circumference increased from 94.8 in 2009 cm to 95.1 in 2012 cm in males and 85.5 cm to 86.5 cm in females. In the sub-population aged 18 to 34 years, the prevalence of obesity alone increased from 14.4% in 2009 to 16.3% in 2012.
In SSA, very few studies have focused on these younger adult age groups or have evaluated the time-trends. Data collected in 2004 in Uganda report overall prevalence of 10.4 and 2.3% of overweight and obesity respectively, in young adults aged 18 to 30 years . Unhealthy diet and sedentary lifestyle that accompany the process of epidemiologic transition are the likely explanations for these trends in both developed and developing countries .
Early descriptions on the clustering of obesity with hypertension and other cardiovascular risk factors in children, adolescents and young adults emerged in the 1980s in the USA . We found in our study that the BMI and the WC were strong predictors of prevalent hypertension; each 1 kg/m2 increase in BMI was associated with 11% increase in the prevalence of hypertension, and each 1 cm increase in WC was associated with 9% rise in the prevalence of hypertension. In the ObEpi survey in France, people with overweight or obesity were respectively 2.3 times and 3.6 more likely to have hypertension compared with people with BMI < 25 kg/m2 . In 1368 adults urban dwellers aged 18 to 88 years in Nigeria with a prevalence of overweight, obesity and hypertension of 32.7%, 22.2 and 33.3%, Amira et al. showed that overweight and obesity were associated with 1.45 and 2.59 odds of prevalent hypertension . In 600 university students aged between 18 and 24 years in Bengal, India, the prevalence of hypertension and combined overweight and obesity were 13 and 35.5% respectively; in this young population, overweight and obesity were associated with higher rates of hypertension . Overall, the results of our study are congruent with observations made elsewhere in developing and developed countries.
Many potential mechanisms have been proposed to explain the role of obesity in the development of hypertension. These include amongst others: activation of the sympathetic nervous system, sodium retention as a results of increased renal tubular reabsorption, and increased renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system activity .
We acknowledge the following potential limitations of our study: it took place in a single centre, and participants were not randomly selected. The results may not therefore apply to the general population of young adults. However, these results indicate a clear picture of the burden of overweight and obesity in a young adults population of Cameroon and their role as major risk factor for hypertension; further, they provide trends that are close to those reported in developed countries, and which will be used as a basis for projections. We also could not measure the blood pressure twice as recommended. Lastly, we lack data on some important cardiovascular risk factors we could account for in logistic regressions such as physical activity, diet and sodium intake in particular, and family history of hypertension.