Parents who want their children to avoid obesity through exercise and healthy diets should practice what they preach, the Health ministry said.
Gladys Mugambi, head of the Nutrition Unit at the ministry says since children are under the care of parents or guardians, they can play a critical role in influencing what they eat and to model health lifestyles for them.
Unhealthy lifestyles are increasingly leading to high rates of obesity in Kenyan children, especially those from affluent backgrounds.
Ms Mugambi says rising obesity cases in children is now creating a double burden.
“On one hand, we have children from poor backgrounds who are malnourished because of having insufficient food. Then there’s another lot that are malnourished as they are overeating all types of unhealthy foods that deny the body required nutrients,” she said.
Obese children are at risk of getting diabetes, heart diseases, as well as premature death, in adulthood.
As such, identifying risk factors for the prevention of childhood obesity has become a public health priority globally.
A new study published in The BMJ (formerly known as the British Medical Journal) shows that children of mothers who follow healthy lifestyles have a substantially lower risk of developing obesity than those of mothers who do not do so.
Findings of the study show that the risk of obesity is lowest among children of mothers who aside from eating healthy diets, also maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, avoid smoking and are light to moderate drinkers.
According to the researchers, if both mothers and their children stuck to a healthy lifestyle, this could result in an even further reduction in the risk of childhood obesity.
They note that even though the role of genetics in obesity is widely recognised, a rapid increase in obesity in recent years is more likely to be due to lifestyle changes.
The study was conducted by a team of researchers based in Canada and the US. They examined medical histories and lifestyle characteristics of 24,289 children aged between nine and 14 years.
They found that the risk of obesity was 56 per cent lower in children of women with a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) than those of other mothers.
Compared with offspring of women who were current smokers, children of non-smoking mothers had a 31 per cent lower risk of obesity.
The reduction in obesity cases was also noticeable in children of mothers who exercised for the recommended 150 minutes or more a week, as well as those that were light to moderate drinkers (consuming one or two small glasses of wine or a pint of standard strength beer daily).
Overall, children of mothers who followed all five low risk lifestyle factors (a high quality diet, normal BMI, regular physical activities, light to moderate intake of alcohol and non-smoking) had a 75 per cent lower risk of developing obesity. The researchers stated that these findings highlight the potential benefits of implementing parent-based interventions to curb the risk of childhood obesity.
"Prospective research examining the role of fathers in the development of obesity in offspring is needed.”
To curb obesity, Mugambi noted that children should be given a balanced diet comprising healthy carbohydrates (like rice and ugali), proteins (such as chicken, fish or beef) and a lot of fruits and vegetables. “Parents basically need to limit or keep off fatty meals, processed foods and soft drinks like soda and artificial juices, even if they may seem tastier and more appealing to children.”
“Also, prevent children from just sitting idle or watching television the whole day. Encourage them to exercise.”