Kelvin Mokaya, Youth Advocate
Rapid economic and social change, together with urbanization and globalization in Nairobi, are leading to a shift away from healthier, traditional diets to those filled with sugar, sodium, and saturated fat. Increased availability and consumption of commercially prepared and highly processed foods and sugary beverages contribute to overweight and obesity and to various NCDs. The food industry targets children and youth in an effort to influence their taste preferences and encourage brand loyalty that can continue into adulthood.
Aside from poor diets, a lack of sufficient exercise is also increasing the risk of developing NCDs. According to the International Study of Childhood Obesity, Lifestyle and Environment conducted in Nairobi in 2012, among 9-11-year-old students in primary schools, less than 10 percent of girls and less than 20 percent of boys got sufficient levels of physical activity. This has been defined as engaging in at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity every day. Over half of the students reported using motorized transportation to and from school every day.
Rapid urbanization in Kenya has significantly reduced the levels of physical activity required for work or transportation. It has also given rise to environmental factors such as heavy traffic, poor air quality, and crime that can make it difficult to be active outside. Lack of access to safe, well-lit sidewalks and parks and other spaces for recreation can also prevent youth from getting enough exercise.
Exercise has multiple other benefits including reducing the risk of developing mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression that are common among young people. Physical activity among youth is also typically associated with lower levels of other NCD risk behaviors such as tobacco and alcohol use. Appropriate physical activity is a valuable tool in therapeutic regimens for the control and rehabilitation of cardiovascular disease, coronary artery disease, hypertension, congenital heart disease, peripheral vascular disease, obesity, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes mellitus, musculoskeletal disorders, end-stage renal disease, stress, anxiety, and depression, etc.
Regular physical activity, independent of other factors, reduces the probability of coronary artery disease and early death. The Ministry of Health should endorse fitness programs in all sectors, which will result in decreased health-care costs.