Why career women’s children are getting fatter

Children of elite mothers in Kenya are increasingly becoming obese compared to those of uneducated parents, paediatricians have warned.

Adolescents and children in private schools whose mothers are more educated and rich are becoming bulgier, putting them at risk of diabetes, cancers and heart diseases, says Dr Joyce Mbogo, a paediatrician and paediatric endocrinologist at Aga Khan University Hospital.

Our concern is the growing number of children we are seeing with Type 2 diabetes that is associated with obesity,” says Dr Mbogo.

In an obesity prevalence study done in Nairobi, private schools recorded the highest number of children who are overweight at 16.7 per cent compared to 5.7 per cent in public institutions.

Those who are obese in private schools stand at 6.9 per cent and the numbers are growing, compared to 1.6 per cent in public schools.

A majority of career women lack time to plan meals and supervise what their children eat, leaving the responsibility to nannies or the older children.

The educated women also have high levels of income and can easily afford processed foods.

In most urban homes, sausages, bacon, ham, bread, samosas, fruit jam, sugar, margarine or butter have a constant spot on the breakfast table. Weekend treats for children is deep-fried foods downed with sugary drinks.

For lunch-break snacks, most children carry sausages, cakes or biscuits and juices to school. Not bad if it’s a one-off. But paediatricians warn that Kenyan elite parents are slowly spreading death beds for their children who are constantly eating fatty, sugary foods and high levels of carbohydrates.

Eating too much sugar won’t cause diabetes. But it may make the children overweight, which puts them at risk of diabetes. Being overweight makes it harder for their body to properly use insulin.

The Internet craze has also pushed children and adolescents to cozy spots in TV rooms where they sit and play video games for hours with little physical activity.

And for those who show interest in sports, the joysticks are perfect companions in the virtual” fields played on iPads.

”We need to educate our children on the importance of healthy diets and physical activity,” says Dr Mbogo.

As the economy grows and more Kenyans have higher amounts of disposable income, the diabetes cases are set to go up.

Type 2 diabetes was until recently seen as a disease of middle-aged and elderly people, but it is now increasingly seen in adolescents and children. People who are overweight in childhood are likely to remain so as adults.


With devolution, our fear is that we are going to see more diabetes cases,” says Dr Mbogo.

The International Diabetes Federation notes that the number of people with the disease will grow most dramatically in regions that continue to have high levels of economic growth.

Africa will record the highest growth of 110 per cent in diabetes cases in coming years compared to 23 per cent in Europe, according to a McKinsey report on Overcoming obesity: an initial economic analysis.

To turn the obesity tide, Dr Mbogo says children should participate in physical activity for at least 60 minutes every day.

Parents should make lifestyle changes that include ensuring children eat healthy diets consisting of fruits, vegetables and whole grain products, low-fat or non-fat milk or dairy products, lean meats, fish, lentils and beans. Sugar-sweetened beverages should be substituted with water.

The World Health Organisation recommends that the food and beverage industry should also voluntarily restrict high-calorie food aertising to children. Parents should also control the food portions that children eat.

Some of the symptoms for diabetes in children include bed- wetting and dehydration.