February 26, 2010 – About four million Kenyans are obese, according to latest government statistics, which indicate that the condition is becoming increasingly prevalent among younger people.
Deputy Director of Medical Services Dr William Maina told Capital News that a study by researchers at Kenyatta University and the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology revealed that a third of students in private schools were obese compared to 12 percent of those in public schools.
“As a result we are finding an increase in chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension and cancers and this is why we are saying that the trend of diseases in this country is really changing,” Dr Maina said.
“We have traditionally been worried about communicable or infectious diseases and very little effort has been put in control of non infectious diseases,” he added.
In its website last week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) stated that obesity had reached an epidemic level globally with 2.6 million people dying each year as a result of being overweight or obese.
“Once associated with high-income countries, obesity is now also prevalent in low and middle income countries,” the WHO website stated.
Dr Maina said women in Kenya were more prone to the condition with research indicating that 19.6 percent of women were obese compared to 10.1 percent of men.
“Obesity is diagnosed through measurements of weight in kilograms divided by square of height in metres. Whenever we take that measurement, and you find that somebody has a Body Mass Index (BMI) above 30 we describe this as obesity,” he explained.
The Deputy Director said a person with a BMI of between 25 and 30 was termed as overweight with the risk of progressing to obesity and the normal BMI should be between 18.5 and 24.9.
He said this condition had accelerated due to unhealthy diets rich in carbohydrates, oil and fats and high sugars, adding that reduced physical exercise was also a major cause of obesity.
“What happens is that if there is consumption of high calorie food and that person is not actively involved in burning up all those calories, the body accumulates that as fat,” he said.
He however posed that there was a challenge with accessibility and affordability of healthy foods because they were more expensive than processed foods.
“It becomes difficult for the general population to access healthy foods like fruits. To tell somebody to have three to five servings of fruits per day is very challenging,” he noted.
Dr Maina appealed to the Ministry of Agriculture to promote traditional and organic foods to reduce the problem.
“We need to have policies that will make these foods more affordable to people than the processed foods.”
He said this could be done through promoting farm inputs and increasing taxation on processed foods.