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Medical practitioners raise concern over rising cases of child obesity 

Mrs. Betty Okundi, the Officer-In-Charge of the Nutrition Department at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital in Kisumu (JOOTRH), speaking to KNA on Friday September 8, 2017. She has  revealed that Kisumu County is leading with the highest child obesity in the country. She has attributed it to poor eating habits. Photo  by Roberto  Muyela/KNA.




It is vivid that Child obesity has ceased being a preserve of the Western nations as it is steadily creeping into the African continent. Initially, this phenomenon was often made know to us via foreign movies and television shows.

Of-late, in the contemporary African society, one does not need to watch television shows to see obese children. They exist in our neighborhoods.

In Kenya, some studies have been conducted to unearth the courses of child obesity and also the reasons for the upward trend.

A recent study conducted by the Ministry of Health in Kisumu County reveals that the prevalence of overweight and obese cases in the devolved unit is on the rise.

Statistics from the study indicate that the prevalence of the cases were at 4 percent in 2011 but scaled to 6 percent by 2014 whilst the national prevalence stands at 4 percent.

Specialists are worried by the drift with fears that the figures could be higher if a similar study was to be conducted today.

In a sensitization move, the Health Ministry targets to ease the prevalence to less than 2 percent country-wide by the year 2022.

This will also see the County gear towards achieving the Global, Regional and National targets for nutrition, including the sustainable development goals (SDGs) 2030, which highlights nutrition in SDG number two (end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture) and SDG number three (ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages).

According to Mrs. Betty Okundi, the Officer-In-Charge of the Nutrition Department at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital in Kisumu (JOOTRH), child obesity is a form of dietary malnutrition.

The society, Okundi says, has for long been turning a blind eye towards child obesity until recently when the brunt has become unbearable.

“Many people in the society believed and still suppose that chubbiness in children is an indicator that the child is ballooning with good health whilst it’s not true,” says Okundi.

So, when am I considered overweight or obese? You may pose.

Dr. Jorge Alberto Gonzalez, states in his book 101 Secretes to a Healthy Life, that one is considered to be overweight when his/her weight exceeds between 10 and 19 percent of the persons’ normal or ideal weight.

Dr. Gonzales continues to state that when the excess weight is higher than 20 percent, the subject is therefore considered to be obese.

Mrs. Okundi, who is also the Assistant Chief Nutrition Officer at JOOTRH, observes that if child obesity is properly addressed, nearly all obesity cases in the country will be solved.

She revealed that most of the cases are preventable. The condition, she reveals starts at tender ages in most cases and the primary trigger being over-nutrition to babies.

Mothers, she says, initialize the problem by over-feeding their infants, adding that most of them start exposing their children to mixed feeding even before the weaning age of six months.

“The child gets over supplied with unnecessary food and nutrients when the size of their stomach is only 200 milliliters which should only be occupied by breast milk.

“All the body can do at this age is to store the nutrients it doesn’t need inform of fats and carbohydrates thus snowballing into abnormal growth and obesity,” added Mrs. Okundi.

According to a Research conducted and published in 2015 by Dr. Mary Obade, the Kisumu County Director of Nutritional Services, childhood obesity in the County is related to impaired fat oxidation in children.

The research paper also states that increase in the uptake of high Calorie dense foods such as french-fries, maandazi, chocolate and ice-cream is also a cause.

Other factors, Dr. Obade states are that the unsupervised use of energy saving devices including computers and smartphones which the children use for playing games instead of engaging in the traditional formula of play in the field.

The Medic further extends blame to the sedentary lifestyles the society is slowly adopting.

Some of the private primary schools parents enroll their children, have no playing fields that are essential to providing an aiding environment for the children to burn fats rather than store them.

For the society to avert the menace of child obesity, Dr. Obade indicates that properly planned nutrition is strategic.

She argues that professional nutritionists should be consulted so as to provide advice to ensure that any meal taken should be a balanced one besides also being supplied in the right portions.

However, according to Mrs. Okundi, it is not only extravagant lifestyles that are attributed to the rocketing obese cases. Poverty, she revels has also been observed to yield in obesity in children.

She says some of the cases of child obesity reported at JOOTRH are by residents of humble backgrounds including those who reside in the informal settlements of Manyatta, Nyalenda and Kondele.

Due to poverty, she states, some parents from these places of dwelling only afford to serve their children maandazi and black tea as breakfast, pack the same meal for break and lunch time consumption.

“Others purchase locally prepared French-fries (chips) which they eat for dinner.This stacks a lot of fats and carbohydrates in their bodies hence obesity which results to limited productivity and also pre-exposes the children to lifestyles diseases like diabetes, hypertension, cancer, stress and even gout,” explains Mrs. Okundi.

In Kisumu town, Mrs. Okundi reveals that the cases are on the highest in a couple of private schools. Agha Khan Primary School, for instance, she says has more cases of boy child obesity than girl.

This, she attributes to high fat foods some of the pupils consume at their respective homes. Some she says are due to deskbound lifestyles.

“As a Hospital Department-In-Charge of nutrition, we receive invitations by the school where they periodically sermon parents. We educate the parents and guardians on the means to curb the menace,” says Mrs. Okundi.

In averting the weight menace which Dr. Jorge Alberto Gonzalez states in his book ‘101 Secretes to a Healthy Life’ as “known enemies of health” Dr. Gonzales says it is imperative to exercise self-control during feeding so as to avoid over feeding.

He says it noble for one not to skip any meal, especially breakfast as the temptation to compensate for the ignored meal by eating a lot is usually high and hard to control.

The Doctor advices for regular physical exercise routines, which he says is key to weight loosing.

However, according to Mrs. Okundi, any exercise with the objective of weight loss must be supervised by a nutritionist.

This she argues will ensure healthy weight cutting, stating that regardless of your weight, it is only healthy to lose 2 kilograms every month.

“Cutting more than 2 kilograms a month is tantamount to fatal health complications,” warns the medic.

Mrs. Okundi urges parents with obese children to seek medical advice, adding that they should be wary of the “Magic Formulas” supposedly used for weight reduction as they could pose further medical conditions.

“Diuretics and laxatives which produce weight loss by triggering fluid loss and poor nutrient absorption respectively are not advisable. Visit a certified physician for proper and safer directions,” added Mrs. Okundi.

The health facility (JOOTRH), Mrs. Okundi says, runs a HIV Patients Support Group, which helps the patients manage their weight. Also, the Antiretroviral Therapy administered to the HIV/AIDs patients causes progressive weight gain which if not checked could lead to obesity.

By  Roberto  Muyela

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