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Parenting and child obesity

Nairobi, Kenya: Parents who live in affluent estates in Nairobi are feeding their children fatty and junk foods, leading to a high incidence of obesity among children aged between five and 12 years, research shows.

A survey conducted by African Alive Kenya Chapter, a local NGO, found that 30 per cent of pupils in upmarket schools were obese while only two per cent of pupils in lower-class estates suffered from excessive fatness.

The rise in obesity in Kenyan suburbs is the result of parents’ ignorance about mixing traditional foods and junk to create a diet containing all the nutrients. This also puts the children at risk of other serious health problems associated with being overweight and obese, including diabetes type 2, cancer and cardiovascular diseases as well as high blood pressure.

Interviews with pupils in two private schools in Nairobi’s Kilimani and Karen estates showed that most parents took their children for treats at popular restaurants and hotels where the children were served highly processed foods and drinks, most of which had no labels.

Most of these obese children are usually influenced by TV advertisements about these foods, snacks and beverages hence the high demand for such meals.

“Child obesity occurs when a child is well above the normal weight for his or her age. The types of food these children eat is one of the main contributing factors to obesity,” says Walter Nyakwaka of Africa Alive Kenya Chapter and the survey’s lead researcher.

“It seems there is less emphasis on the consumption of vegetables and fruits by children from rich families,” adds Odede.

Obesity in children is also caused by lack of physical activity but above all, poor family eating habits. Doctors say there is need for regulations and legislations on marketing and advertisement of children’s foods.

Most European countries have strong legislations and regulations on children’s foods, with some European countries going ahead to enact laws.

Mary Atieno, a mother who lives in Kileleshwa, says: “We all have a part to play in stopping childhood obesity. The fight requires everyone to be involved - the media, manufacturers and advertisers among others.”

What is needed, says Atieno, is encouragement of children to eat healthy food.

Another parent and restaurant manager, John Osike, says it is important to discourage children from passive leisure activities such as watching TV or playing computer and video games all the time.

Focusing on the screens for too long dulls the brain and gradually causes eyesight problems, says Osike, adding that the restaurant serves mostly traditional African foods and drinks.

The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) of 2009 showed that the national prevalence of overweight and obesity for women (15–49 years old) in Kenya was 23 per cent. The proportion of overweight and obese women was higher in urban areas than in rural areas, with Nairobi having the highest prevalence of 41 per cent. These figures have an impact on how these women’s children will turn out.