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Sedentary lifestyle exposes Kenyan youth to diabetes

15 November 2013, 11:23

Nairobi - Maureen Wanjiku was among dozens of Kenya youngsters who defied the sweltering mid morning sun on Thursday to have a test on their blood sugar levels at a makeshift tent in a public university.

The 21-year-old is pursuing a degree in Humanities, but a recent health scare prompted her to consult medics.

During a conversation with Xinhua on the World Diabetes Day ( WDD), which falls on Thursday, Wanjiku confessed that she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes three months ago although the disease had not progressed to fatal levels.

"It started with severe thirst, occasional headaches and general body weakness and when the symptoms recurred every day, my instincts told me a visit to the doctor for screening was appropriate," Wanjiku said.

"When I tested positive for type 2 diabetes, it was not a shocker since I had suspected this disease based on family history, " she added.

Hundreds of university student turned up for diabetes screening at the make shift tent in Nairobi. They believed diabetes, one of the leading causes of blindness, renal failure and lower limb amputation, is slowly encroaching on the youthful population thanks to sedentary lifestyle.

Wanjiku and her peers regretted that Kenyan youth are at a crossroads as they juggle between overwhelming responsibilities but can hardly secure ample time to rest and eat healthy food.

"Here in campus, every student spends an average 18 hours shuttling between lecture halls, the library and residential halls. The workload is huge and spare time is as rare as precious metal," said Wanjiku.

She revealed that most students feed on fast foods due to time and budgetary constraints. "Preparing a meal is not only time consuming, it is also costly to most of us who have to penny pinch the little that is provided by parents," Wanjiku said.

Wanjiku admitted that diabetes is no longer the disease of the old and the affluent.

She is among a rising toll of Kenyan youths grappling with type 2 diabetes alongside a host of lifestyle diseases.

Kenya government officials on Thursday confirmed that diabetes is affecting children and youth disproportionately..

The Director of Medical Services in the Ministry of Health, Francis Kimani, noted that Kenya is grappling with a high diabetes burden that has strained healthcare facilities and the national economy.

"More than 1.6 million people representing 4.2 percent of the population in Kenya is living with diabetes. The prevalence levels among the youth has risen in recent times," said Kimani. He regretted that majority of Kenyans have not screened for diabetes, though the risk factors are pronounced.

"The rising burden of non communicable diseases is largely attributed to four shared behavior factors that are influenced by economic transition, rapid urbanization, tobacco and alcohol consumption alongside insufficient exercises," Kimani said.

He revealed that 70 percent of Kenyans consume unhealthy diets low in vegetables and fruits but high in refined sugars, salt and fat.

The Kenyan government has outlined strategic interventions that include public awareness and regular screening to minimize the impact of diabetes to the social fabric.

"One of our interventions is to deliberately address the youth as they stand a significantly high risk of diabetes unless they reverse their lifestyle trends," Kimani said.

The World Diabetes Day had a special resonance to the Kenyan youth who not only turned up in droves for screening but also braved the hot sun to take an eight kilometer walk.

Tony Asila, 25, a medical student in one of the leading public universities, was participating in a walk to raise public awareness on diabetes. He told Xinhua that he has witnessed close family members and fellow students being ravaged by diabetes.

"Ignorance about diabetes is pronounced in our society. Many people are not screening for this disease yet evidence has it that both the young and old are at risk," said Asila.

He revealed that he had been testing for blood sugar level several times. So far, diabetes has not been detected in his body.

To reinforce the magnitude of diabetes among Kenyan youth, a senior university administrator revealed that her institution of 60,000 students has over 100 confirmed cases.

"Over 90 percent of these patients have type 2 diabetes and the remaining 10 percent have type 1. A random survey carried out recently indicated a spike in new cases," said the vice-chancellor, Kenyatta University, Olive Mugenda

Experts agreed that Kenyan youth are at high risk of diabetes due to sedentary lifestyle.

"The number of children and youth getting diabetes has increased. We have diagnosed one month old toddlers with diabetes and this calls for aggressive campaign to save our society from ruin," said Kenya Diabetes Management and Information Center Executive Director Eva Muche.

- Xinhua

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