Financially independent women living dangerously, researchers say


An increasing number of the new generation of financially independent women is spending the newfound wealth to live dangerously; many drinking and eating themselves to poor health and an early death.

A combination of corporate attention on this wealth and poor individual dietary decisions based on the ability to afford have marked these women as the hottest targets for marketers of alcohol and fatty foods.

A survey on alcohol consumption trends in Kenya by Euromonitor International, a global investment research group, says intake by women is on the rise with local manufacturers and distributors designing special products for women as this segment become more moneyed and independent.

While announcing the sponsorship of Miss World Kenya 2013 beauty pageant in May, Agnes Kinga of East African Breweries Limited eluded to a marketing strategy that recognises the emergence of today’s financially independent woman.

“Today’s young woman is socially and economically empowered and loves to be seen as sophisticated and glamorous, traits brought out by the Miss World competition,” Ms Kinga had said.

The company’s financial report released in August showed this class of drinks to be among the fastest growing among its brands having grown by 47 per cent in the previous year compared to three per cent for mainstream brands such as Tusker.

One of these brands is Snapp, an upscale fizzy drink introduced last year through a well-choreographed feminine promotion by its female ambassadors known as the “Snapp Sisters”. Snapp is sponsoring the Miss World Kenya 2013 beauty pageant.

“Women are thinking about themselves in a new light. They’re relying on their own means,” Cristina Diezhandino, Diageo’s head of marketing in Africa had told the Bloomberg News.

But behind all the glamour lies serious health concerns. Last September, a team of researchers from Kenyatta University and the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa carried out a detailed investigation on the feeding habits of adult women in Nairobi and concluded that the richer ones are eating and drinking themselves to death.

The team led by Regina W Mbochi of Kenyatta University tells of a relationship between poor feeding habits and wealth, with those having more money consuming more refined and fatty foods as well as high rates of alcohol.

For example, the survey, which sampled 365 women aged between 25 and 54 years, says 70 per cent of moneyed women in the city were found to be consuming alcohol compared to only 12 per cent of their poorest counterparts.

Refined foods

Richer women were found to be most likely to be consuming more refined foods such as white rice, more eggs and meat and sugary foods including ice-creams while taking less of vegetables such as kales and cabbages compared to poorer females. The bottom line is that women with higher incomes were found to be much more likely to be overweight or even obese.

Drawing a link between obesity and wealth the team found that the number of rooms in a Nairobi home is the first indication to the size of adult women in the home.

The more rooms there are in the house the more likelihood that the older women have big waistlines, carry a lot of fat and are big domestic spenders compared to females living in fewer roomed houses in the City.

If you enter the kitchen in these homes, say the five researchers, you are most likely to find high presence of beef, chicken, processed meats and eggs.

The most significant predictors of overweight and obesity, says the study published in the journal BMC Public Health, were age and the number of items or assets in the women’s households.

According to the researchers such household items included a television, radio, refrigerator, cooker with oven, sofa set, microwave, home computer, mobile phone, landline, land or plot, and a vehicle.

The researchers warn against this new found way of spending wealth that could very well lead to shorter and poor quality life. “A direct association has been found between body weight and deaths from all-causes in women, ages 30 to 55,” says the study.  But Rose Wachuka who runs a Nyama Choma den near Spinners Pub and Restaurant on Enterprise Road, Nairobi sees this as jealousy orchestrated by men who are worried of an empowered and independent woman and are determined to keep her from the sweet things of life. “We have tasted some really nice pieces of meat previously a taboo for women and we are not about to let go. How comes these studies were never done when men-only were eating the whole world away. Let women enjoy their sweat but I can assure you women unlike males do so in moderation,” says Wachuka while nursing a glass of wine.

While it was suggested that women being the custodian of the family health should be driving the country towards good eating habits to reduce incidents of diabetes, heart diseases and other chronic conditions Wachuka and several other of her female friends are not convinced this is a woman only affair. “If now men want to be in labour wards while their women give birth, why can’t they cook that healthy meal for their mamas and children?” Tasha a member of the partying group sought to know.

But in a reconciliatory tone, Dr Vincent Onywera of the Department of Recreation Management and Exercise Science at Kenyatta University and who has written extensively on obesity, says the gospel of healthy eating and more physical exercise must be practiced by all.

“It is important adults change and adopt safer lifestyles but more importantly know they will be held responsible for the health of the young ones on whose behalf they make some crucial feeding decisions,” he said.

While pushing for a Bill on breastfeeding, former minister for Public Health and Sanitation Beth Mugo, now a Nominated Senator, argued against the glorification of unhealthy eating habits including alcohol, tobacco and junk food.

But going by Ms Wachuka’s sentiments, the world’s most powerful woman Mrs Michelle Obama would not be very popular at her pub. Despite her power and possible reach for any cuisine, Mrs Obama, who has one of the leanest families in the world, is a crusader of healthy eating and maintains a vegetable garden at the White House grounds.