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Young women and beer bellies

Friday July 23 2010

Jennifer Muiruri/ Nation

Jennifer Muiruri/ Nation 

By CAROLINE NJUNG’E

“Have you noticed the growing number of teenage girls with love handles nowadays?” read the email from a colleague.

‘Love handles’ are just a polite name for a potbelly if you’re wondering.

It was interesting because I too had noticed this. Young, flawless faces, but when your eyes dropped to the midsection, the shock of protruding, sagging bellies that looked out of place in an otherwise young-looking body.

I forwarded the email to a couple of colleagues and friends and surprise, surprise; they too had noticed the increasing number of young women struggling to cover bellies that threatened to spill over from the waistlines of their trendy jeans.

“Blame it on junk food, alcohol, our nyama choma culture and what I call the couch potato syndrome,” says Kepha Nyanumba, a nutritionist

with AAR.

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According to Kepha, most of today’s young people have embraced an unhealthy lifestyle, a disastrous menu of junk food, too much red meat, excess alcohol and fizzy drinks coupled with inactivity.

And how true that is. Wander into any pub in the city centre on a Friday or Saturday evening and you will notice groups of young girls, most of them in their late teens or early 20s downing bottle after bottle of beer.

Nyama choma is no longer the elderly man’s meal, so they will have already had their fill of roast meat to ‘line’ the stomach as they prepare for a long night.

Most of them would also tell you that before popping into the pub for the ‘main course’, they had passed by a fast food joint for a plate of chips and fried chicken.

Exercise is, of course, a foreign word in their vocabulary.

“Fat tends to be stored around the waist in women,” says Kepha.

Forget aesthetics for a moment, most of the body’s vital organs are found here, and too much fat deposit around this section interferes with their proper functioning.

Unknowingly, while these young women meet every weekend to “do Nyama” or join the long queue of predominantly young people who take advantage of a weekly offer to ‘buy-one-pizza-get-one-free’ at a popular fast food restaurant in the city centre, they are setting themselves up for future infertility, and diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity and a host of cardiovascular diseases.

It is also worth noting that the rate of metabolism in men is higher than that in women. According to Kepha, men break down fat faster than women.

This means that when women in their early 20s compete with their male companions for the two kilos of nyama choma and ugali, which they then wash down with several bottles of beer, the damaging effects of this deadly menu are likely to show themselves sooner in the fairer sex.

Kepha points out that though your average young woman is conscious of her looks, this does not make her immune to the lure of junk food, which, besides being tastier, is also cheaper than nutritionally-healthy food and therefore friendlier to their pockets.

“Generally, most young women are conscious about their looks and will do just about anything, including starving themselves to portray a certain image.”

Take bulimia nervosa for instance, which Kepha singles out as common in young women. It is characterised by recurrent binge eating, which one then tries to compensate for by fasting, vomiting, or over-exercising. It, of course, does not work because the damage is already done.

What is the way out then? There is no short cut to losing weight unfortunately, or getting rid of the dangerous fat around the waist. You just have to eat healthy and exercise.

Unless young women embrace a healthy lifestyle now, the problem will be much more than an expanding waistline.

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