More than one million Kenyan children aged between five and 19 will be obese by 2030, a new global report show, and experts warn that lifestyle changes have contributed to this trend.
The latest World Obesity Atlas report shows that more than one billion people around the world will be obese, a majority of whom will be in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) like Kenya.
Women have the highest prevalence of obesity compared with men.
Kenya ranked 143 out of 183 countries in the report on preparedness for dealing with obesity-related illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension.
“The new Obesity-NCD Preparedness Ranking highlights that many of the countries ranked lowest for preparedness are LMICs where the obesity rates are rising fastest and health system capacity is lowest, showing the need for strong prevention policies, as well as health system policies,” the report says.
The report also shows that children’s obesity has the highest burden compared with adults, with the report showing that eight in every 100 Kenyan children become obese every year.
The annual diabetes rate for adults, on the other hand, is about three per cent.
Having people who understand the condition will help reduce cases in sub-Saharan Africa, Stephen Ogweno, a
Kenyan obesity activist and CEO of an obesity education organization, said in the report.
“I was born with childhood obesity, and if statistics are anything to go by, by the time I was 18, I was supposed to be living with full-blown obesity,” he said in the report.
“By the time I was 25, I was supposed to have developed hypertension, and by the time I was 35, I probably would have developed diabetes resulting from obesity. But this was not the case, because early on in my life I had people close to me who understood that obesity was a disease and helped me manage my condition.”
Mr Ogweno said that many mothers over the years have stopped exclusive breastfeeding of their babies, contributing to an increase in child obesity.
"As we know exclusive breastfeeding helps build the child's biology and immune systems ensuring the right foundations and hormonal balance in the child, the lack of this as a result contributes to a rise in childhood obesity," he said
"The government policies have not been able to catch up with modern times and tactics by the food and marketing industries. We have been slow in developing and implementing policies that aim at reducing trans fats in foods, encouraging front pack labelling of food products, reducing sugars and salts in food and controlling advertising targeted at children aimed at food products."
The new report echoes last year’s update on obesity by the World Health Organization (WHO), which showed that global obesity had tripled since 1975.
“The prevalence of overweight and obesity among children and adolescents aged 5-19 has risen dramatically from just 4 percent in 1975 to just over 18 percent in 2016. The rise has occurred similarly among both boys and girls: in 2016, 18 percent of girls and 19 of boys were overweight,” said the WHO.
Speaking to the Nation, Dr Davis Ombui, consultant physician and diabetologist, explained that lifestyle changes have contributed to rising cases of obesity in Kenya.
“There is a shift in how we live. We have moved away from the farming nature as more people are moving to urban centres to look for white-collar jobs. At the places of work, people become less active and rarely have time to cook for themselves,” he said.
“Children, on the other hand, unlike in our days, have little time to play in schools. Physical activity is important because it helps in burning calories, but when they don’t have that, they are at risk of being obese.”
Dr Ombui also cited the popularity of fast foods that have more calories than what our bodies need, reducing the frequency of burning fat.
“Since people have little time to cook for themselves, they will likely get their food from fast-food joints. Such places are cheaper and the food sold is easily available compared to organic food. There is a decreasing interest in learning how to cook traditional food as they are considered less fashionable,” he explained.
Dr Ombui said there is a slight difference between obesity and overweight and it is all in the ‘metrics’.
Obesity is determined by checking the body mass index (BMI), the measure of a person’s height and weight.
He said a normal person has a BMI of about between 18 and 24. One becomes overweight when their BMI is between 25 and 29.
Any BMI above 30 indicates obesity and is grouped into three classes: people whose BMI is between 30 and 34, those who have between 35 and 39, and those who have above 40.
But it is not all gloom, Dr Ombui said. The situation can be reversed by embracing healthier lifestyles such as eating organic foods and creating time for physical activities.