How Choice Health Is Addressing the Health Crisis in Kenya’s Middle-Class
By Lilian Wangare
Choice Health Network recently participated in the inaugural National Food and Nutrition Symposium that was held at the Kenya School of Government, Lower Kabete.
The symposium was organized by the Academia and Research Network, a community of academia and scientific nutrition professionals. The purpose of the symposium was to bring together the academia and research community, development partners, policy and decision makers from national and county levels to reflect on innovative and new thinking which can be translated into action to improve food and nutrition security and public health practice in the country. Choice Health Network participated as a development partner.
The Symposium was a response to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2008/2009 which highlighted the great extent to which the Kenyan population is undernourished. It sought to come up with innovative solutions to the crisis of malnutrition, and sustainable ways of mainstreaming those innovations to help achieve Vision 2030 and meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
As it turns out, malnutrition is not just caused by starvation, it is also through micronutrient deficiencies. And the reality is that up to 90 percent of Kenyans are suffering from some form of malnutrition – because we are not eating enough, or/and the foods we are eating are deficient in the minerals and vitamins our bodies require. This latter aspect is referred to as the hidden hunger.
At base, Kenya is suffering some of the highest levels in the world of Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD), which is affecting 85 percent of Kenyan children under 5 years, according to a recent World Bank report. The Government, with the support of agencies implementing or supporting food, nutrition and public health programs, has put in measures by providing micronutrient powders (MNPs) like Unimix. Unimix is used essentially for supplementary feeding programs for children below 5 years and lactating mothers.
The issue is that this initiative only reaches the children of the lower economic class. What of children of the middle class and upper middle class? The assumption is that their parents/guardians have the money to purchase these products, but Unimix is not available in the retail stores that they go to.
This means the middle class in Kenya has no ready access to a product that is fortified with all the required nutrients for the entire family. But malnutrition knows no boundaries and cuts across all classes. The middle class in has been ignored due to their economic advantage with the assumption that they have the means to access basic nutrition.
All initiatives by government and NGOs ignore to create a solution that targets this class. Kids in the middle class are suffering from excess weight and obesity, huge malnutrition challenges that lead to non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, osteoporosis, and heart disease. We call this “The Rich Also Cry” reality. We assume that since they have a good education, they can simply Google the information.
As it is, obesity is twice as high in urban areas as in rural areas and increases with age, education, and wealth. According to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey of the 2008/09, 41% of Nairobi women were found to be overweight or obese. This is especially troubling for pregnant women who are overweight, because it distorts their glucose tolerance leading to diabetes which is a terminal illness. That is according to the 2014 Health of the Nation Report published by Business Daily.
Tuti Yogurt is the MNP/Unimix for the middle class. We have given ourselves the mandate to provide them with information on nutritional needs and more so a product that provides them with the required nutrients. We have developed an intervention for that class of people through Tuti Yogurt.
While a lot remains to be done to improve the malnutrition problem in Kenya, Choice Health Network is taking the right steps and is determined to be part of the solution through our naturally fortified products. Tuti Yogurt is just one of the innovative solutions and more are coming in 2017.