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Home / Wellness

Nairobi women’s diet worrying medics

 There are reports of increasing obesity among urban women in Kenya (Shutterstock)

Responding to reports of increasing obesity among urban women, a team of nutrition experts recently undertook to verify the claims.

First, they identified the women at most risk, recorded what they were eating and from where they bought the food.

Then they assessed and tested them for weight, obesity, body fat, and blood pressure all known risk factors for heart diseases.

The results, published in the current issue of the African Journal of Health Sciences are alarming and call on women, especially wealthier individuals, to immediately relook into what they are eating.

The team from Moi Teaching Referral Hospital, Eldoret, Kenyatta University, Mount St. Vincent University, Canada and Kenya Medical Research Institute had engaged 250 middle-income women from Langata Constituency in Nairobi.

The constituency, the team says, was specially selected since a 2012 study in the same locality had reported alarming rates of obesity among women of reproductive age.

Women recruited for the current study were aged between 20 and 50 years, with a daily expenditure of Sh2,000 to Sh7,000 and at least a Sh20,000 monthly food bill.

Majority of the study participants had diploma level of education, with 18 per cent holding a Bachelor’s degree and a similar number with a Master’s degree.

A third of the participants were employed in office work and accessed food mainly from supermarkets and fast-food outlets.

Too many calories, excess proteins and starch

Almost 80 per cent of the participants, the study says, consumed a diet above the recommended daily calorie intake of 2,000. 

“83 per cent of the study participants consumed protein above the recommended 50 grams with a similar number consuming more fat than recommended,” says the study.

Consumption of carbohydrates, salt, and free sugar was also well above the recommended levels.

However, consumption of magnesium, potassium, and good fat – were all below the recommended levels. Magnesium and potassium are crucial minerals for body functions and mainly available in vegetables, fruits, and nuts.

The team found low consumption of good fat normally found in plant and animal foods, such as salmon, vegetable oils, and some nuts and seeds.

Blood tests also confirmed cholesterol in more than a third of the participants was above normal levels.

High cholesterol can cause fat deposits in blood vessels, increasing the risk for heart disease. Sometimes such deposits, experts explain can break suddenly and form a clot that causes a heart attack or stroke.

Many of the women, 41 per cent and a similar number, were confirmed overweight and obese respectively.

More than half of the participants recorded big waist sizes; a suggestion of excess abdominal fat – usually considered unhealthy.

Over a third of the women had high blood pressure with a significant number approaching risky hypertension levels.

Over time, if untreated, doctors warn high blood pressure can cause health problems, including heart disease and stroke.

Nutritionists normally recommend the eating of a healthier diet with less salt, exercising regularly, and for those already hypertensive to take medication.

The team led by Matilda Makungu Obimbo, says their study had confirmed that middle-class women in Nairobi are eating poorly.

“This study has associated middle and upper-middle-class women with consumption of calorie-dense foods, processed foods high in salt and sugars and less consumption of fruits and vegetables.”

The consequences, the report says were reflected in worryingly high rates of overweight, obesity, hypertension, and cholesterol in the study group.

These conditions, the team warns are pointers to the development of cardiovascular disease including heart attacks and stroke.

Changes the study recommends

· Eat no more than five grams of salt per day

· Reduction in amounts of added sugar

· Eat at least 400 grams of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and pulses daily

· Reduction in intake of foods high in saturated and trans fats. These are fats that often solidify at room temperature including butter, palm and coconut oils, and cheese among others

· Reduction in alcohol consumption

· Increase the amount of physical activity. The study showed that wealthier women exhibited a sedentary lifestyle and consumed a diet high in energy, protein, fat, cholesterol and alcohol while low in fibre.

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