Lifestyle diseases burden Kenya with a huge health bill


Watching weight. Obesity is a serious challenge facing Kenyans aged below 60 years as it causes diseases that lead to premature death. File

Kenya is grappling with a huge health bill arising from lifestyle diseases as a result of detrimental eating habits.

Latest statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicate that about a quarter (23 per cent) of Kenyan women aged 15 years and above are either overweight or obese.

In contrast, only about seven per cent of men in the same age group suffer from the conditions.

Maria Omare, a nutritionist based in Nairobi, says obesity cases have been increasing at an alarming rate.

“Many people are now suffering from heart diseases, cancers, diabetes, bone issues and psychological disorders due to their weight,” she says.

Based on the WHO, overweight and obesity are the fifth leading risk of global deaths. At least 2.8 million adults die each year as a result of the conditions.

In addition, the WHO notes that 44 per cent, 23 per cent and up to 41 per cent of diabetes, heart disease and cancer burdens respectively are attributable to overweight and obesity. Diabetes affects 3.5 million Kenyans.

Diabetes medicines sold in Kenya this year were valued at Sh2.5 billion while those for heypertension cost patients Sh2 billion. Overall the market for medicines for non-communicable diseases, which account for half of hospital admissions, this year is estimated at Sh47.4 billion.

The lifestyle diseases have the potential of robbing the country the human resource key to propelling economic growth.

Kenya — just like other low and middle income countries — is now facing a “double burden” of nutrition disorders with malnutrition affecting 35 per cent of children below the age of five years, exposing them to major childhood killers like diarrhoea and pneumonia, and obesity.

Kenya is also tackling infectious diseases like HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and malaria.

Ms Omare says Kenyans should embrace a healthy lifestyle so as to prevent obesity and complications related to overweight.

“They should exercise regularly and eat healthy foods,” she says.

The WHO recommends a diet limited in fats and sugars but rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts.