The number of children with obesity is increasing: Here's why you should be concerned

Serve more fruits and vegetables in your meals.

Serve more fruits and vegetables in your meals.

Fact box

By 2020, 39 million children aged five and below were overweight or obese

Fact box

By 2016, over 340 million children and adolescents aged between five and nineteen were overweight or obese.

Fact box

By 2016, over 1.9 billion people aged 18 years and over were overweight. Out of these, 650 million people were obese.

Fact box

Data from the Ministry of Health shows that at least 27 per cent of Kenyans are either overweight or obese. 38.5 per cent of these are women while 17.5 per cent are men.

What you need to know:

  • Ministry of Health’s 2015 STEPwise survey, found that 27 percent of Kenyan adults are either overweight or obese. Nearly 40 percent of these Kenyans are women while 18 percent are men.
  • According to the WHO, obesity occurs when there is an imbalance between the calories a person consumes and the calories a person burns.

If you walk into any major shopping outlet in the country, you will notice a worrying number of children who are either overweight or obese. According to the World Obesity Federation (WOF), 8.4 percent of children aged five to nine or 670, 834 children in Kenya are likely to be obese by the year 2030. At the same time, 5.5 percent of children aged 10 to 19 or 793,121 children in Kenya will be obese by the year 2030. In total, 1,463,954 children in Kenya are expected to be obese within the next 10 years.

Dr. Patrick Kihiu a general physician in Makueni County says obesity is a condition in which a person carries excess body weight with a body mass index (BMI) of over 30.  According to the World Health Organization, children under the age of five are said to be obese if their weight to height ratio is greater than 3 standard deviations above the WHO Child Growth Standards median. “Children between the age of five and nineteen years are obese if they have 2 standard deviations above the WHO Child Growth Standards median,” says WHO.

But it is not only children who are getting obese. Data suggests that obesity in children could be trickling down from the rising cases of obesity in adults.  For instance, the Ministry of Health’s 2015 STEPwise survey, found that 27 percent of Kenyan adults are either overweight or obese. Nearly 40 percent of these Kenyans are women while 18 percent are men.

Causes and risk factors

According to the WHO, obesity occurs when there is an imbalance between the calories a person consumes and the calories a person burns. This imbalance follows the uptake of foods that are high in fat and sugars, coupled with a lack of physical activity. Obesity is also caused by genetic factors. Body mass index is 25 to 40 percent hereditary. However, the genetic factor only affects weight when combined with environmental and behavioural factors such as poor eating habits. Genetic factors account for less than five percent of cases of childhood obesity.

Obesity is a leading risk factor for diabetes and is estimated to account for between 80 and 85 percent of the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. This is because being overweight increases the risk of raised blood glucose levels and high blood pressure. Dr. Kihiu says that one of the risk factors of obesity during childhood is the likelihood of obesity being carried into adulthood.  Obesity is also linked to glucose intolerance, insulin resistance, sleep apnea, cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, menstrual abnormalities, impaired balance, and orthopedic problems.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is most often a result of being overweight. Seven to ten people with the disease are usually obese. It is particularly common in men, and people living with diabetes. It occurs when fat builds up in the cells of the liver. In some cases, it occurs due to the consumption of unhealthy diets such as excessive consumption of saturated fats. According to research by the US-based Texas A&M AgriLife published in the Hepatology medical journal, the non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) can be controlled using indole, a natural compound that is found in gut bacteria and cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, and kales.

Overcoming obesity

If one person in the family has obesity, the WHO recommends that you introduce healthy habits to the whole family. This will help the child who is struggling with obesity not to feel singled out, stigmatised, or odd.

Here is a compilation of things you can do to help your child fight obesity according to the WHO and the Johns Hopkins Medicine:

  • Serve more fruits and vegetables in your meals. This should entail at least five servings of fruits.
  • Avoid buying high-calorie foods and snacks that are high in fats. Avoid buying a lot of soda.
  • Introduce daily physical activity. These activities should be at least 60 minutes per day.
  • Encourage your family to eat only when hungry and not simply because food or snacks are available.
  • Reduce the amount of time spent in front of the television to about one to two hours per day.
  • Be an example by following a healthy diet and exercising to keep your weight in check.

Local and global stats on obesity

According to the World Health Organization:

  • Obesity has nearly tripled across the world since 1975.
  • By 2020, 39 million children aged five and below were overweight or obese
  • By 2016, over 340 million children and adolescents aged between five and nineteen were overweight or obese.
  • By 2016, over 1.9 billion people aged 18 years and over were overweight. Out of these, 650 million people were obese.
  • Data from the Ministry of Health shows that at least 27 percent of Kenyans are either overweight or obese. 38.5 percent of these are women while 17.5 percent are men.
  • Kenya National Bureau of Statistics data shows that nearly 50 percent of women aged between 40 and 49 years are either overweight or obese.

Takeaway research on obesity in children

Obesity in children is linked to high blood pressure and future heart disease. A 2020 study that was conducted by researchers from the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) shows that obesity in children as young as 3 years is associated with a 38 to 53 percent elevated risk of thicker artery lining, while high blood pressure is linked to a 33 to 63 percent increased risk of developing thicker lining of the artery in later years. “By examining over 5,000 children from multiple backgrounds, we established a connection between cardiovascular risk factors in children and adolescents and the subsequent deleterious changes in the blood vessels,” said Julia Bueschges who led the study that was published in the ESC journal. Thicker artery lining is an early indicator of clogged arteries. Arteries can get clogged as a result of the buildup of fats and cholesterol in and on the artery walls, leading to serious cardiovascular conditions. “That this risk was identified among children below five years points to the importance of good cardiovascular health from an early age. Physical activity and a healthy diet can help prevent high blood pressure and obesity,” said Bueschges.

Welcome!

You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.