Dr. Dennis Nturibi

The recently released Global Nutrition Report titled “From Promise to Impact- Ending Malnutrition by 2030” has caused quite a stir, and rightly so. We are thankfully seeing more and more health authorities acknowledge that malnutrition is now more than just being undernourished, but also over nourished. In Kenya, and many other African countries, we are sandwiched between the burden of under as well as over nutrition, wrecking havoc on our healthcare expenditure. It is predicted that the worst is still to come.

From the report above, out of 5 billion people adults worldwide, nearly 2 billion are overweight or obese. 8.3 % have type 2 diabetes, one of the worst diseases anyone can have. Out of 667 million children below 5 years of age, 50 million are underweight while 41 million are overweight. These two numbers are now almost the same, and the overweight children are expected to exceed the underweight in the next few years.

A cousin was recently talking about initiatives to get her children to appreciate fruits and vegetables. While commendable, I wondered when things got so bad. I should issue a disclaimer here, in that I was one of those children who did not eat fruits or vegetables. Growing up, I had such a large appetite, that I often “bullied” my parents into not insisting that I eat my fruits and veggies, coz after all, I did eat everything else very well. Of course, the result of this was that I was overweight, maybe even obese, through my childhood.

I have taken a different route with my children. Fruits and veggies have been a standard since they were weaned. My children do not raise an eyebrow when it is time for food. In fact, each of them has what they love, from cucumbers to broccoli, and carrots and lettuce.

Parents need to understand two things. One is that they have to lead by example. If both parents are not eating fruits and vegetables, then the children will not eat them. Secondly, when there is an alternative high sugar, high salt food in the house, the children will naturally gravitate towards these. Adults also do the same. We are built to seek out the food with the greatest reward; therefore, this is a natural animal process. Junk foods should have no place in the home. The society we live in today is such that if your child is already attending school, they will be exposed to junk food every single day! You would have to move into Mount Kenya forest and take up home schooling or something to avoid the pervasive, upsetting reach of junk food. Birthdays in schools are the worst, with parents liberally and generously availing a selection of awful packaged and processed items we mistakenly call food to share with all children. Who has ever seen any of these parents bringing apples, or grapes, or sweet bananas? Is this really not possible? Do we have an inkling of how much harm we are causing our children?

Given this deplorable state of affairs, I feel that we need to sanitize our homes of junk foods. Let your home be a place where children can eat safe and nutritious foods. A sugar treat should be a fruit, and snacking should be on a wide selection of fruits and vegetables. Let us please help our children to grow up knowing that food is for nutrition, not for comfort. Comfort eating is causing untold misery in so many adults who have grown up to relate the need for some comfort when things are tough to “food and drink treats”. Consequently, the obesity epidemic continues to grow, despite everything we know. Train your children to play sports for fun, and to de-stress, and they will grow up with good habits that will ensure their great health for decades to come.

Needless to say, I have changed a lot since my early days. In my home, I lead by example, and I hope to influence other parents to do the same.

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