Fat Problem for Kenyan Children

Millie* is slouched on the couch watching her favorite programme on Disney channel. The expansive house in Runda is the venue and I don’t mind carrying out this interview while she’s watching her favorite TV show “Wizards of Waverly Place”. Anything to make her comfortable, I tell her mother.

There is an empty packet of crisps and half a bar of chocolate on the stool beside the couch. She’s sipping on a packet of juice captioned 100% sugar free and shifts to make herself comfortable as we start our conversation. She likes, her favorite restaurant (name withheld) because they make the best wraps and burgers in town. The girl often dials for deliveries when she can’t make it to town.

Millie tells me of the struggles she’s had to endure due to her weight. The fear of walking into a room because of what people will say about her size. Wanting to wear trendy cloths that look good on a slim girl but knowing she’d look like a blown up bean bag in them. What about the phrase that looks don’t matter, I ask. People don’t see her, she says, they see the body first and judge her according to her size.

Lazy is what most people describe her so that for her is a tired saying. The weight makes it more difficult to make and keep friends because people will reject you and not want to be seen with you she tells me. What is your favorite sporty activity I ask. With all the judging going around, Millie says she’s too scared to put herself out there, afraid to want to try new things, afraid that she will be judged or won’t fit in or will be laughed at. Afraid to do sports. She once tried basketball, but the aspiring team trainees were impatient with her, the coach kept yelling at her not to slow the team down. She gave up after being constantly relegated to the sidelines to catch her breath.

Millie would rather play station or do internet related activities on her iPad in the comfort of the house. Millie says she has few friends perhaps because she offers them stuff they can’t afford, she’s easy on cash too. Born at 5kgs, Millie’s mother thought that she would grow out of the puppy fat, but it is taking longer than she had expected.

At only fifteen years, Millie’s weight fluctuates between 69 to 72 kgs. According to the height to weight ratio, the health appropriate weight for a 15 year old who is 160cms tall is around 54kg. Her mother is not the only one worried about her carrying around the extra pounds but her father as well. While it’s true that some overweight children are very popular with their classmates, feel good about themselves, and have plenty of self confidence, the same cannot be said about many other obese children as is the case with Millie. Overweight and obese children are often targets of bias and stigma, and they are vulnerable to negative attitudes in multiple domains of living including educational institutions, medical facilities, the mass media, and interpersonal relationships.

As is the case with Millie, obesity is more pronounced in children who come from affluent families in Kenya. Barbara Moguche, a pediatrician at Kenyatta National Hospital says that by the year 2020, unless there’s a lifestyle change, 35 percent of the Kenyan children will be obese. This could become an epidemic that will create a generation of children who will be outlived by their parents.

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