In Mauritania, that lies between the Western Sahara and Senegal, women are encouraged to gain as much weight as possibly from childhood in order to be considered attractive.
Having a fat wife is desirable and is a sign of wealth and prestige in the country where food is in short supply.
In their quest to find a husband, many of the women are being pushed to dangerous lengths to gain weight from being force fed to taking pills that are not fit for human consumption.
U.S. journalist Thomas Morton was sent to Mauritania to investigate the problem for the HBO documentary series, Vice.
But he wasn't just to observe what was happening - he had to eat the diet of the Mauretanian women and take the pills they took to see what impact it had on his health.
He found that girls are fattened up from the age of eight by their families in a practice referred to as 'gavage' - a French word that means force feeding and is used to describe the fattening of geese to make foie gras.
Once they reach a marriageable age, girls are sent to 'fat camps' in the desert where they are fed 15,000 calories a day.
For breakfast, the girls have breadcrumbs soaked in olive oil washed down with camel's milk. They then have frequent meals throughout the day of goat's meat, bread, figs and couscous, all with more camel milk to drink.
After trying the diet, Morton put on nearly a stone in two days and was left feeling bloated and unhealthy.
He questioned how the women must feel having to do this over a lifetime given how terrible it made him feel after two days. Their obesity also means the women are more likely to suffer from ill-health and develop problems like heart disease.
Morton said he felt sick from the food he was having to consume, a problem often experienced by the Mauretanian women. So they have found another way to gain weight that's easier to stomach but just as damaging to their health - taking pills.
The women said the animal growth hormones end up giving the women who take them a disproportionate body shape with a big stomach, face and breasts but thin arms and legs.
She said: 'The person now looks more like a seal than a human being.'
The pill taking can also have dangerous side effects from infertility to heart failure.
She said: 'Women can't have children because of this type of gavage. The big problem is this often leads to heart failure, repeated heart attacks, rare are the ones who escape. There are consequences - diseases, malformations and insanity.'
In a separate study, Paula Braitstein from Indiana University and Moi University in the U.S. found that almost a quarter of women in Mauritania reported being force fed as a child and 32 per cent of women and 29 per cent of men in the country approved of the practice.
Braitstein writes that 'these practices are unlikely to be discontinued in the near future without considerable effort to change cultural norms.'
TUMESHIRIKI KUTOKA DM''