KDHS data indicates that approximately half of educated and affluent women of reproductive age in Kenya are overweight or obese, whereas only about a quarter of their less educated counterparts fall into these categories.

According to the recently released Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS) for 2022, 50 percent of women aged 20 to 49 with more than a secondary education are either overweight or obese, compared to 26 percent of women with no education.

The survey, conducted every decade, also revealed that six out of ten women in the same age group belonging to the highest wealth quintile are obese, while only one out of five women in the lowest wealth quintile share this condition.

The data also demonstrated that urban areas have a higher prevalence of overweight or obese women, with 43 percent of women in the 20–49 age group reporting being overweight or obese in urban areas, compared to 39 percent in rural areas.

Furthermore, the findings showed an increase in the percentage of women categorized as obese, rising from 38 percent in the 2014 KDHS to 45 percent in 2022.

The survey highlighted that only 19 percent of men in the same age group were classified as overweight or obese.

The World Health Organization (WHO) emphasizes that being overweight or obese has detrimental effects on an individual’s health, as both are significant risk factors for various chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. In women, these conditions also have far-reaching implications for reproductive health.

The report, published by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), utilized data on height, weight, and age to calculate nutritional status, height-for-age, and body mass index-for-age.

Among adolescent females aged 15–19, 18 percent are considered thin, while 3 percent are moderately or severely underweight. Additionally, 13 percent of adolescent females fall into the overweight or obese category. Furthermore, among women aged 20–49, 18 percent in the lowest wealth quintile are thin, compared to 3 percent in the wealthiest group.

Zain Omar, a representative of numerous Kenyan women grappling with obesity, experienced the negative impact on her health. After being diagnosed as overweight and with high blood pressure, Zain sought professional assistance, including physiotherapy for back pain and guidance from a nutritionist. Determined to prioritize her health and well-being, Zain embarked on a gradual weight loss journey, aiming to shed the recommended 15 kilograms.

The Acting Director-General of Health, Patrick Amoth, expressed concern over the increasing prevalence of obesity and overweight, emphasizing that they could become the next pandemic, contributing to a rise in non-communicable diseases. The survey revealed that the likelihood of being overweight or obese increases with age, from 13 percent in adolescents aged 15–19 to 32 percent in women aged 20–29 and 55 percent in women aged 40–49. Dr. Amoth emphasized the need to instill healthy eating habits and regular physical activity among teenagers to prevent the burden of obesity and overweight.

One of the goals outlined in the Kenya Health Policy 2014-2030 is to reduce the growing burden of non-communicable diseases, which emerge earlier and require prolonged treatment and additional healthcare resources. The survey states that investing in prevention, particularly in nutrition, ensures the sustainability of health financing and provides a wide range of services. It emphasizes the importance of a healthy diet, which includes consuming a variety of unprocessed foods, limiting sugary drinks and unhealthy foods, and ensuring adequate dietary diversity.

The survey also highlights the significance of essential vitamins and minerals for women, particularly those of childbearing age, as deficiencies in micronutrients like iron, iodine, vitamin A, folate, and zinc can have severe consequences.

“Unhealthy foods and sugary drinks should be limited as they are associated with overweight and obesity and noncommunicable diseases. In women, overweight and obesity can affect reproductive health and increase complications in pregnancy,” the survey states.

According to the findings, the number of learned women with more than a secondary education who consume unhealthy foods has increased from 14 per cent in 2014 to 42 per cent in 2022. This means that four out of 10 educated women consume unhealthy foods.

More women consume sweet drinks, including fizzy drinks, at 70 per cent of women with no education compared to 75 per cent of those with more than secondary education . Some 45 per cent of wealthy women consume more unhealthy foods compared to 20 per cent in the lowest wealth quintile.

Studies show that exposure to sweetened beverages is associated with a range of health complications. A study dubbed Obesity and Women’s Health: An evidence-based review, published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, found that being overweight or obese increases the relative risk of diabetes and coronary heart disease in women.