Alarm over  growing potbellies in Kenya school children


The number of overweight and obese school children in urban Kenya is worrying with a significant number developing abdominal obesity or pot bellies.

About a quarter of school children in Nairobi and Kisumu cities have a weight problem with nine per cent having a pot belly – called abdominal obesity.

Abdominal obesity is largely seen in adults where the abdomen protrudes excessively and sometimes known as beer belly or potbelly.

The condition is increasing being associated with heart disease, diabetes and dyslipidemia or too much cholesterol in the blood.

The children, aged around 11 years, medical experts warn are likely to go into adulthood with the weight problem and associated health risks.

Red meat

Students eating too much red meat, little fruits and vegetables, not sleeping well or with little physical activity in the two cities had a weight problem.

To avoid a future health crisis, medical experts want parents to urgently change their children’s eating, sleeping and physical activity habits.

The most affected children come from higher income households who are likely to be driven to school, eat more and processed meat and often eat restaurant foods.

Middle income household had the highest number of children sleeping fewer than nine hours per night.

Researchers from George Mason University and Johns Hopkins University both of US, and Maseno University and the University of Nairobi, Kenya, had engaged 390 students aged 8 to 14 years from six public primary schools in Kisumu and Nairobi cities.

The schools, the report say were selected to represent those serving low, middle and high income households in the two cities.

“Overall, 21 per cent of the students were overweight or obese and nine per cent of them had abdominal obesity,” says the study.


The preprint posted on Tuesday (5th October, 2021) on the Research Square online platform, shows the weight problem is highest in schools catering  for high income households.

Only 11 percent of students in schools catering to students from low-income households were overweight or obese compared to 23 per cent in middle-income schools, and 28 per cent in high income schools.

“We found that students who did not consume recommended levels of fruit were more likely to be overweight or obese, have central obesity, and high levels of adipose tissue,” said the study led by Constance Gewa of George Mason University.

Sugary juices

Overall, 28 per cent and 42 per cent of students did not meet the daily recommended vegetable and fruit servings, respectively.

There was high consumption of sugary juices and soda, confectionaries and fries or crisps as well as fried or baked wheat products.

Thirty five percent of students consumed soda one day per week while five per cent consumed soda daily and 22 per cent consumed processed juice one day per week. Seven per cent consumed processed juice daily.

The study also found that high consumption of red and or processed meats was associated with a higher proportion of overweight and obesity.

Beef and goat meat, made up the largest share of consumed meats in high- and middle-income households with more of fish consumed in poorer families.

Frequency of consumption of red and or processed meats was higher among children Nairobi compared to Kisumu.


It was also higher among children enrolled in high-income schools compared to low- and middle-income schools.

Sausages are the most consumed processed meat and mainly among children in the higher income households.

Seventy one per cent of high-income households consumed sausages compared to 58 per cent in middle and low-income households.

Other processed red meats popular in the study group included hamburgers and beef samosas.

More than half of the students, 57 per cent, did not walk to or from school, with a higher number of non walkers from high income households.

Consequently the study found 52 per cent of the students did not meet the recommended daily minutes of physical activity.

Overall, 41 per cent of the students slept fewer than nine hours per night with pupils from middle income households at the highest risk of missing sleep.

These results, the authors say can help target childhood obesity prevention measures in Kenya as a strategy to control non-communicable diseases.

By Gatonye Gathura

About Gatonye Gathura 142 Articles
Science Journalist

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