Obesity in Kenya is tightening its grip with the rise of urbanisation and rapid dietary changes.
Far gone are the days when people would trek to get from one point to another. Now we have tarmacked roads and where those are lacking, or the roads are narrow, motorbikes save the day.
Water pollution in rivers and other water sources has made us hesitant to buy vegetables and fruits in towns. Many times, we opt for processed food believing that it is the safest bet as far as food hygiene and sanitation is concerned.
But at what cost?
In 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that an estimated 41 million children under the age of five years were overweight or obese globally. The report further stated that in Africa alone, the number of children under five years who were overweight had increased by nearly 50 per cent since 2000.
Here are the seven leading causes of child obesity:
1. Overconsumption of processed food while failing to meet the required fruit and vegetable portions per day. WHO recommends at least 400g (5 servings) of fruits and vegetables per day.
While treats are good once in a while, they should not replace the children’s staple meals.
2. Inadequate physical activity. Children today are adopting a rather sedentary lifestyle eternally glued to the screens of their phones, computers and such like devices.
Outdoor games and house chores would help a great deal to eliminate child obesity.
3. Mother’s diet during pregnancy. An article published in 2016 by Daily Nation of a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Paediatrics stated that mothers who ate too much fish -- more than thrice a week -- increased the risk of children being overweight once they reached ages four and six years. It was observed that this effect was greater in girls than boys.
4. Genetic influences. Children can become obese due to gene factors affecting their metabolism, body-fat distribution, appetite, satiety and and the tendency to use eating as a way to cope with stress.
According to an article published by Harvard Health in April 2017, "Why people become overweight", genes may account for 25-80 per cent of the predisposition to be overweight depending on the individual.
Does your child keep eating even after they are full? Do they turn to food for comfort when stressed? Do they have an extremely high metabolism rate?
Making such observations can give you a rough idea of the extent of genetic influences on your child's weight . This can inform best on how to help the child stay healthy.
5. Creating an enabling environment. Children tend to learn by example. If they have access to unhealthy food or watch other adult family members engaging in unhealthy habits of poor diet and inactivity, they will succumb to this tempting environment regardless of how much broccoli you place on their plate. Processed food is mostly colourful and enticing.
6. Lack of adequate sleep. Sleep is crucial for healthy growth and development of children.
Sleep deprivation has the potential to alter the normal functioning of body hormones including ghrelin, which is the hormone responsible for increased food appetite.
Sources: World Health Organization (WHO), Daily Nation, Harvard Health