The Summer Olympic Games, due to kick off next week in London, promise to be a spectacle to remember.
London fully intends to use the huge media platform created by the Olympics to communicate some powerful social messages to the whole world.
To this end a lot of effort has been expended to make these the ‘greenest’ games ever in the history of the modern Olympics.
Even the official slogan of London 2012, ‘Inspire A Generation’, was deliberately chosen by the organisers with a view to encouraging and attracting more young people to sport, especially at a time when our children are increasingly spending more and more time behind a computer, a television set or a mobile phone as opposed to running wild in the fields or on the streets like the generations before.
In this noble effort, the International Olympic Committee has some powerful allies. Michelle Obama, the first lady of the United States of America, was recently quoted in the international press urging Americans of all ages to come out and participate in local community sporting activities on the first day of the Olympics.
This message is a part of her hugely successful ‘Let’s Move’ initiative which is aimed at combating childhood obesity by educating children from an early age about the benefits of eating better and moving more.
The fact that both the Olympics Committee and Michele Obama are speaking in one voice about childhood obesity helps to highlight this as perhaps one of the fastest growing health care challenges of our time.
But it is also an indictment on our ability to peer into the future and avoid the looming catastrophe posed by an ever-growing number of obese persons in our society.
Already in Kenya, lifestyle diseases, many of which are tied to obesity, are reported to have overtaken infectious diseases in terms of bed occupancy in our hospitals.
This alone is placing a huge and unnecessary burden on our already strained healthcare system, which can only get worse if we do not do something about it.
As Hillary Clinton famously pointed out, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’.
Though the onus is upon us as individuals to eat better and move more, there is much that the government, both local and central, must do to help encourage physical activity, especially amongst the youth.
On a recent visit to the United States of America, I was impressed by the abundance of green space in many of their major cities.
In Seattle, Washington, every neighbourhood has a public park adjacent to it, where children can run, swing, slide, skateboard and just generally have a great time.
This is something the city of Nairobi is crying out for; real effort must be made by our city planners to provide for green space in our estates.
Far too many of our new apartment blocks are nothing but concrete jungles without a tree or a blade of grass anywhere in sight.
I look forward to the day when Uhuru Park will have a public jogging track or an open-air gym where city residents can get active while enjoying the great Nairobi weather.
Another thing that struck me about some of the cities I visited in the US, such as Denver, was the fact that there are bike lanes and sidewalks on virtually every street.
They have also gone the extra mile to impose rules that give priority to pedestrians and cyclists in order to make walking and cycling a safe and viable alternative to driving.
It is the provision of this sort of infrastructure that has seen cities such as Denver and Seattle voted as among the fittest cities in America, with much lower rates of obesity as compared to the national average.
Beyond infrastructure, public security is another key requirement for a healthy, active population.
Childhood obesity is becoming a bigger problem in part because our streets are not considered safe enough for children, and many parents respond by keeping their children indoors, in front of the television.
In this sense, physical activity is very closely tied to security. Enforcing speed limits within residential areas to tame errant drivers, providing more police patrols and encouraging community policing are all measures that will help to restore the confidence of many a parent towards letting their children get out of the house and move more.
This is also the only way that we will be able to encourage our children from an early age to take a more active lifestyle that will safeguard their health way into adulthood.
Finally, we must not diminish the place of physical activity within the school curriculum. In a world where there is much pressure to succeed, physical education is rapidly becoming a casualty in the quest for better academic performance.
This is unfortunate, because physical education imparts the skills that children need to learn in order to keep themselves fit and healthy into adulthood.
Instead of sacrificing games for preps, we need to expand the school physical education programme by investing in better sports facilities and encouraging every student to participate in sports.
After all, they may very well be the next Dennis Oliech or MacDonald Mariga!
The writer is a fitness consultant. Join the conversation on Facebook by searching ‘raymondonyango.com’