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Kenya-Health: Health Problems Linked to Childhood Eating Habits

SOURCE: BUSINESS DAILY
BY:Immaculate Karambu

Health experts have raised concern over rising cases of lifestyle diseases. They trace part of the problem to childhood eating habits. “Nutrition problems among children lay a foundation for health challenges in adulthood. It is important to ensure that children eat healthy,” said Dr Kirtida Acharya, the chairman of the Diabetes Kenya Association. Who is responsible for instilling a culture of healthy eating among children? According to Dr Elizabeth Kuria, a nutrition expert and lecturer at Kenyatta University, the responsibility lies with parents and guardians. “Parents are key people in teaching their children healthy eating. Parents have the primary role of raising children and teaching them everything,” she said. But even as parents assume this responsibility, some factors may hinder effective discharge of the role.

They include busy lifestyles, especially in the urban areas, which often limit the time parents spend with their children.

Healthy eating

Another hindrance is children embracing habits that compromise healthy eating. Experts said that to deal with the challenges, parents should delegate the responsibility of teaching children healthy eating to experts to ensure that the habit is carried on even in their absence.

For example, among factors to consider when hiring a house maid should be ability to grasp nutrition concepts. “If a house help has the ability to read, training on basic nutrition can be adopted alongside providing reading material to boost her knowledge on good nutrition,” said Dr Kuria.

By imparting such skills in your house help, you build a domestic learning system that is beneficial to your children and the entire family.

“A knowledgeable house help will be able to pass on a parent’s good nutrition practices to the children. This is important for children to avoid contradictory information from parents and house helps,” Dr Kuria said. Outside the home, children also need someone to mentor them on healthy eating. While growing up, a child spends a lot of time in school.

Health experts said school is crucial in determining nutrition habits that a child adopts. The challenge lies in drafting and coordinating regulations to ensure that recommended nutrition practices are upheld in schools.

“Majority of parents shy away from traditional nutritious foods so as to fit in a certain social status,” said Mrs Gladys Mugambi, the deputy head of the nutrition department at the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation. Some schools are also to blame for misconceptions on eating well.

While some schools have adopted a balanced diet, including snacks that are chosen through consultation with nutrition experts, others lack regulation over what snacks children eat.

Nutrition habits

In a school that lacks regulated nutrition habits, children are likely to succumb to peer pressure, leading to consumption of poor diets in a bid to fit into a certain social category.

Consequently, a child grows up discriminating against certain foods even when they are rich in nutrients. This affects their long term eating habits.

To come up with proper diets at school, training by professional nutritionists should be given top priority. However, there has been lack of commitment to such programmes.

“We often organise training on nutrition in schools, but parents rarely attend the sessions regardless of their importance in adding to their nutrition knowledge,” said Dr Acharya. But while such training sessions are privately organised, health experts said there was need for national regulation on nutrition in schools.

“We do not have regulations between the ministries of Health and Education to ensure that a standard menu is observed in schools,” said Mrs Mugambi. Parents have a role to play in ensuring formulation of proper diet regulations in schools.

This role is left to school management which often comes up with regulations that suit them. “Most snack shops in schools are owned by people in management. They mostly contain sugary snacks that, regardless of their impact on a child’s health, are loved by children,” said Dr Acharya.

Realising that an adult’s knowledge on nutrition is key to addressing healthy eating among children is the first step in dealing with nutrition challenges. Experts said that only a handful of people follow recommended nutrition practices.

There is a wide knowledge gap regarding nutrition which should be sealed. Also, alcohol abuse and smoking before children derail the drive for healthy living.

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One Response to "Kenya-Health: Health Problems Linked to Childhood Eating Habits"

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