43 percent of urban women are obese — MoH

The Ministry of Health is concerned about the growing burden of obesity among women of reproductive age in urban areas. It emerged that 33 percent of women in the country are overweight and obese with the rate of obesity among urban women standing at 43 percent compared to 26 percent among their rural counterparts. Veronica Kirogo, the ministry’s head of nutrition and dietetics, said counties in the Central region have the highest obesity burden. Kirinyaga leads with 54  per cent.

Other counties with a high burden include Nyeri, Mombasa, and Kiambu. This has been attributed to eating unhealthy foods and beverages, urbanization, and probably a reduction in physical activity. Kirogo spoke on Tuesday during the national maternal, infant, and young child nutrition symposium in Nairobi. The three days conference brings together different stakeholders in the health sector. They are Unicef, the Council of Governors, World Vision, Concern Worldwide, USAID, Hellen Keller Int, Nutrition International, the World Food Programme, and Action Against Hunger.

The objectives include sharing evidence on addressing maternal, infant, and young child nutrition. It focuses on complementary feeding and provides a platform for the identification of gaps, priorities, and opportunities for the framework of action on complementary feeding and expanded family diet. “Nine percent of our women are thin, especially in the Asal areas. When women with low BMI get pregnant, the risk of having poor pregnancy outcomes is higher,” Kirogo said. According to the data, 26 percent of children below five years are stunted while four percent are obese. The prevalence of anemia among pregnant women due to iron deficiency stands at 41.4 percent while the prevalence of iron deficiency is 25.6 percent in pregnant women and 22.1 percent among school-age children.

“What concerns us most is the stunting because when children are stunted we are causing un-reversible damage to the physical and cognitive health, meaning in terms of productivity it is curtailed,” Kirogo said. Acting health director-general Patrick Amoth said malnutrition is a leading cause of infant and child morbidity, mortality, and hospital admission, a situation that urgently requires interventions by stakeholders. Amoth said in 2014, the economy lost Sh373.9 billion or 6.9 percent of the gross domestic product due to health, education, and productivity-related costs associated with child undernutrition as per the 2019 Social and Economic Effects of Child Undernutrition report.“The report projected, reducing the prevalence of stunting from 26 percent in 2014 to 14.7 percent of the Vision 2030 target, would yield a cost decrease in economic losses due to child undernutrition of up to 40.7 percent,” Amoth said.

“This would result in annual average savings estimated at Sh33.2 billion and emphasize the urgency in addressing malnutrition.” Unicef Kenya nutrition manager Abiud Omwega said among wealthier families, young children and their caregivers are increasingly exposed to foods of low nutrition value, including commercial infant foods and processed foods high in sugar, salt,  saturated and trans fats. These, he said, are cheap, easily available, and easy to feed to young children but they are not nutritious. He said malnutrition represents an often-invisible impediment to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.“It results not just from a lack of sufficient and adequately nutritious and safe food, but from other intertwined factors linking health care, education, water, sanitation and hygiene, access to food and resources, women’s empowerment, and more,” Omwenga said. Kenya is facing the triple burden of malnutrition where there is a coexistence of undernutrition, overnutrition and obesity, and hidden hunger.

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