Poor lifestyle choices preying on Kenyans

Nutrition can be used to prevent or manage some of the ailments like diabetes, cancers, hypertension and obesity. PHOTO | PHOTOSEARCH
Nutrition can be used to prevent or manage some of the ailments like diabetes, cancers, hypertension and obesity. PHOTO | PHOTOSEARCH 

The binging festival that was the Christmas and New Year holidays has ended, but the steady diet of fast foods, fizzy soft drinks, cocktails and everything in between will probably extend well into the year.

This unhampered diet and the lack of exercise, will make its effects on the body well known; eating away at vital organs and breeding diseases.

Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) or lifestyle diseases are a leading killer globally and Kenya is dangerously flirting with them as fast food chains set up shop at every corner.

NCDs manifest in form of cardiovascular ailments like heart attacks and strokes, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Tobacco use, alcohol, poor diet and lack of or low physical exercises are the greatest contributors to the ailments, with three quarters of adults living in Africa facing at least three of the risk factors, said WHO in a report published two weeks ago. Women in Africa face the greatest risk.

Silent onset

Often, NCDs have a slow and silent onset, devastating complications and end in painful deaths.

“NCDs have been on the rise in the country mainly because of rapid urbanisation, lack of physical activity, poor diet and genetics in some cases.

“The greatest problem we have at the moment is lifestyle patterns where people continuously binge on alcohol, use tobacco and eat unhealthy foods,” said Head of the NCDs Division at the Ministry of Health (MoH) Joseph Kibachio.

In Kenya, the diseases account for the deaths of 100,000 people every year, putting more pressure on the frail health ministry already dealing with the burden of infectious illnesses.

The STEPwise report released by the Ministry last year states that cardiovascular illnesses and cancers are the leading causes of deaths after infectious diseases in Kenya.

Changes in lifestyle patterns, the Ministry says, were the main contributors towards the growing prevalence and the burden of the diseases is straining the economic progression and financial capacity by six per cent.

WHO is particularly concerned with the penetration of the diseases and the growing numbers of those affected in Africa.

The UN agency says that the burden of the diseases has been increasing over the last decade and is likely to surpass the death toll from infectious sickness like malaria by 2030, if nothing is done to tame the soaring numbers.

“We cannot lose sight of the enormous health dangers posed by non-communicable diseases, especially since many of these can be prevented through changes in behaviour and lifestyle,” Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director for Africa.

Globally, NCDs account for 38 million deaths every year with the low and middle-income countries accounting for three quarter (28 million) of the loss of lives. Cardio-vascular ailments account to about 60 per cent of the diseases.

It is estimated that the global death toll from NCDs may go up to 44 million within the next four years.

Life expectancy

A study published last year in the UK medical journal, The Lancet, puts the global death toll from NCD’s at 40 million in 2015, which means that the ailments accounted for 70 per cent of the deaths.

While another study says that life expectancy has improved by 10.1 per cent, people worldwide are spending more years living with illness now more than 16 years ago.

And, although people are living up to 10 years longer than they did in 1990, four of those extra years are spent in deteriorating health.

This means that while cure and methods to tame communicable, neonatal, maternal, and nutritional diseases have come up, Lifestyle diseases are the new crisis facing health sectors around the world.

Globally, the use of tobacco causes 70 per cent of lung cancers, 40 per cent chronic lung cancer diseases and 10 per cent of cardiovascular diseases.

Failure to eat enough fruits and vegetables also accounts for about 14 per cent of deaths from gastrointestinal cancer and about 10 per cent of deaths from ischemic heart disease and stroke.

“Nutrition can be used to prevent or manage some of the ailments like diabetes, cancers, hypertension and obesity; a condition which is an underlying cause of some of the NCDs,” said Gladys Mugambi, head of nutrition and dietetics at the Ministry of Health.

Promoting wellbeing

“We need to adopt the culture of eating vegetables and fruits for vital vitamins and minerals in right amounts and the expected frequency. We also need to watch sugar, fats and carbohydrates intake as well as embrace exercises in order exercise to keep conditions like obesity (a leading cause in diabetes and hypertension) at bay,” she added.

WHO recommends that adults between the age of 18 and 64 engage in physical activities for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity workout or 75 minutes of vigorous work out throughout the week.

A series published in Lancet on urban design, transport and health by the University of Melbourne (Australia) and the University of California, (USA), says that cities would promote people overall health if they encouraged a shift from use of private cars to cycling and walking, and promoted designs where shops and facilities such as public transport are placed within walking distance.

Such considerations will ensure a reduction in health issues including, encourage physical activity and reduce air pollution from transport emissions.

“City planning was key to cutting infectious disease outbreaks in the 19th century through improved sanitation, housing and separating residential and industrial areas.

Today, there is a real opportunity for city planning to reduce non-communicable diseases and road trauma and to promote health and wellbeing more broadly,” Series author Professor Billie Giles-Corti, University of Melbourne, Australia.

The researchers, who carried out the study in Melbourne, London, Boston, Sao Paulo, Copenhagen and Delhi recorded an estimated reduction of 19 per cent in the burden of cardiovascular disease and 14 per cent in the burden of type 2 diabetes in Melbourne.

In London it reduced the cardiovascular disease burden by 13 per cent and seven per cent in type 2 diabetes while in Boston, there was 15 per cent and 11 per cent reduction, respectively.

Key interventions

The model suggested key interventions that encourage walking, cycling and public transport and reduce use of private cars and/or increasing the cost of parking, having attractive and convenient public transport systems as well as setting up infrastructure that supports safe walking and cycling.