Stop obesity now lest it become a national disaster


Out of 10 wealthy and educated women of reproductive age, about five are overweight.

Photo credit: File I Nation Media Group

The “Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) 2022” report shows that half of women college graduates aged 20-49 years are either obese or overweight, compared to 26 per cent of those without a formal education.

The data also show six out of 10 women in the same age group in the highest wealth quantile are obese, compared to one in five women in the lowest wealth quantile.

Generally, there is a high tendency for the population in Kenya to be obese and overweight, which poses danger for the population that should be working and building the nation. There is a strong correlation between education, incomes and age in matters of lifestyle diseases and complications that should be addressed by stakeholders working with the national and county governments.

These findings relate with those released by the “World Obesity Atlas” and a World Obesity Federation report, indicating that the menace will increase at five percentage points between 2020 and 2035 for adults globally.

The tragedy is that children are projected to have annual obesity increases double the adult percentage—with 208 million boys affected by obesity while, for girls, it will be 175 million. Some obesity is genetic, however, where children born by obese parents have high risk factors of becoming obese.

The report also indicates that five in every 10 people will be obese by 2035 if the current lifestyle trends continue, which represents almost four billion people globally.

Economists have suggested that the increasing cases of obesity will be an economic drain since its treatment and other arising complications will cost the economy 1.1 per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP).  The global economy will lose $4 trillion, or three per cent of global GDP, due to obesity-related challenges.

The report further highlights how cases of absenteeism and unproductivity at work, premature death and other health-related expenditures will become a drain to the economy, going against the target for a 10 per cent GDP growth per annum for Kenya in order to pull many people out of poverty.

Obesity is not entirely the individual’s fault but failure of the environmental, healthcare (especially preventive health measures and food) and other support systems needed to ensure that citizens lead healthy lives.

Planning standards should be adhered to, which permits a mix of transportation means and intermodal split and also provides for pedestrian walkways and paths through which many people can walk and have exercises.

Lastly, there is a need for the adoption of healthy living and eating lifestyles which discourage consumption of junk food, addressing climate change, reduction of chemical pollution and development of national action plans to address the menace.

Dr Giti is an urban management, public-private partnerships (PPP) and environment specialist. [email protected], @danielgiti