Obesity problem in Kenya
A recent study that was released few weeks back showing that a third of Kenya’s women are either obese or overweight,points to a country facing a plus size epidemic.It is ironic that this is the same country where millions of people face starvation every few years due erratic weather patterns.Not dwelling much on the report that lacked beyond basic facts, Kenyan women and their male counterparts need to know that as well as the obvious health gains, there are social, economic and environmental benefits from having a physically active society.Inactivity is a leading contributor to the burden of disease and plays a major role in Kenya’s obesity epidemic. The study shows just how quickly obesity is increasing in Kenya and how the trajectory will continue unless Kenyans change their ways.Current public health guidelines recommend adults undertake at least 30 minutes of at least moderate-intensity physical activity five days per week. This need not be structured exercise and can include three ten-minute brisk walks a day to the bus stop or to buy dinner is sufficient.Recommendations for children vary depending on their age. Kids under five should accumulate at least three hours of physical activity every day and this includes any level of movement, from light intensity play through to vigorous activity. Five to 17 year-olds should aim for at least 50 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity activity per day.Limits to television viewing, computer use and video games are also recommended for young people: zero screen time under two years; a maximum of one hour per day for two- to five-year-olds and no more than two hours per day from five to 17-year-olds.The ministry of Health in Kenya is in the process of reviewing and updating its physical activity recommendations across the lifespan. But government initiatives and policies that promote physical activity and movement are the responsibility of more than just the health department.Few Kenyans consider the role of state justice departments, for instance, in ensuring they have a safe environment to walk the streets free from concerns about their personal safety or that of their children. The role of bodies which are responsible for maintaining, improving and identifying new locations for accessible parks and public open spaces are also critical.
Urban planners, property developers, architects, engineers, teachers, local government agencies, as well as the transport, sport and recreation, and health sectors all have important roles to play in a coordinated approach.It’s never too early to begin promoting movement and physical activity, particularly if it’s intended to prevent unhealthy weight gain.Programs in preschools promotes the consumption of fruit and vegetables and teaches young children basic movement skills such as throwing, catching, jumping, skipping and kicking. This program has had a significant impact on the participants’ skill mastery, even several years later.It’s disturbing that the single largest decline in physical activity during childhood occurs when a child starts primary school. Children in Kenya public schools sit, on average, around 7 hours out of a 8 hour school day. There’s no doubt the curriculum is crowded, but it is possible to meet these educational demands in active ways,delivering standing lessons, or giving active homework. Active transport to school initiatives have received support from governments but funding is rarely sustained.There may be a role for the transport sector and urban planners in promoting active commuting or public transport to and from school by identifying safe routes, further subsidising fares or even introducing free travel for children on their school route.One policy initiative for Kenyan schools to consider is early dismissal of children who are walking home from school. This should be a strong incentive for children to use active transport and would reduce the injury risk from the Matatu pick up rush after school hours.The role of families and parents in supporting children’s physical activity is through encouraging parents to play and be active with their children, along with limiting screen time, generally a sensible way to promote physical activity.The sport and recreation sector can play a more substantial role in promoting family-based activities, not just through children’s participation in organised sports but through engagement in active play.Hopefully, in Kenya we’ll see more sectors and organisations help to make active lives the easy choice. It’s important that government and non-government physical activity policies and initiatives support all members of the population to be active from early childhood to older adulthood.