i ISSUE NO. 3616 

April 19 - 24, 2013


 Coastweek   Kenya

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Few choices leave urban poor
at mercy of lifestyle diseases

there is low level of awareness about lifestyle
diseases and their risk factors in poorer communities


NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Many poor people are suffering from cardiovascular diseases in Kenya due to fewer healthy choices, experts have noted.

Dr Catherine Kyobutungi and Dr Sam Oti of African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) said that the diseases namely diabetes and hypertension are afflicting a larger population of the poor in the East African nation since they have limited access to healthcare and they cannot afford healthy foods.

“Most of the time, junky foods are generally cheaper and more appealing than healthy food. Poor people thus tend to turn to unhealthy food, which they find attractive and to save costs,” said the health experts on Monday in an interview in Nairobi.

In Nairobi’s slum districts, where majority of the urban poor Kenyans live, research has indicated that most families eat street food mainly fries to save costs.

A recent research by APHRC and Concern Worldwide in Viwandani and Korogocho slums in the capital noted that food insecurity mainly occasioned by high prices drive urban poor families to unhealthy foods.

The study indicated while most of the families eat the cheap street food at least once each day, the foods are unhygienic and pose great health risks to residents.

A small plate of fries costs 0.11 U.S. dollars in the slums. Many families find this cheaper than cooking own food since one would incur more expenses that include energy costs.

“Again, in terms of access to healthcare, poor people tend not to seek medical care early enough possibly due to ignorance as well as affordability issues. So, they usually get to the hospital when they are very sick and have serious complications by which time it might be too late or too expensive for them to be treated, “ said Kyobutungi and Oti.

The researchers further observed that there is low level of awareness about lifestyle diseases and their risk factors in poorer communities.

“Traditionally, lifestyle diseases have been believed to be diseases of affluent societies. Therefore, the poor had ignored them until recently, but awareness levels are still very low, with many people having the diseases failing to know until it is too late,” said the researchers.

They dispelled the misconception among many Kenyans that healthy options are more expensive.

“That is not true. For instance, a person who stops smoking and reduces the quantity of alcohol he or she drinks is actually saving money. It might be expensive to join a gym but you can do simple exercises at home or even take a brisk walk in the neighborhood to stay physically fit,” said the researchers.

They added most healthy local food stuffs that can help keep diabetes and hypertension at bay are inexpensive.

“You don’t have to eat expensive fruits such as apples just to be healthy. Even the way you prepare your food can make a big difference. For example, instead of deep frying food you could boil it or grill it. And don’t add excess salt to your food as it could put you at risk of hypertension,” they observed.

According to the researchers, “lifestyles diseases” are becoming a major problem in Kenya and Africa at large because of rapid urbanization and poverty.

“Kenya is urbanizing quite rapidly. This means that more and more people are adopting’western lifestyles’, including consuming unhealthy diets such as sodas and not exercising often. If nothing is done to stop this trend, Kenya will be faced with a heavy burden of disease, that is, a situation where deaths from communicable diseases such as HIV as well as non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease will double,” said Kyobutungi and Oti.

Research by APHRC and its partners in Korogocho and Viwandani indicate that 17 percent of adults are either hypertensive or diabetic. However, majority of them do not know that they are having the diseases.

According to World Health Organization, 9.4 million deaths occur globally as a result of cardiovascular diseases every year.

Of the deaths, 80 percent occur in low and middle-income countries such as Kenya. In Africa, the diseases account for 12.5 percent of all adult deaths.

“Kenya needs to pay serious attention to lifestyle diseases. The government must invest in prevention strategies and strengthening the primary health care system to address lifestyle diseases and their risk factors to avoid a looming epidemic,” said the researchers.


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