When some words like obesity do not seem to have direct Kinyarwanda translations, we should work hard to keep it that way. Obesity is an unwanted social issue we need to keep out of Rwanda. How do we do that? By supporting government initiatives to shut down school canteens, for schools and parents to minimise sugar and over-eating in young people’s diets.
Obesity is a medical condition where excess body fat accumulates and adversely affects one’s health, leading to reduced life expectancy and/or increased health problems. People are considered obese when their body mass index (BMI) exceeds 30kh/ m2. BMI is measured by dividing a person’s weight in kg by the square of the person’s height in metres. Obesity increases the likelihood of various diseases, particularly heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, certain types of cancer, and osteoarthritis.
Obesity is most commonly caused by a combination of excessive food energy intake, lack of physical activity, and genetic susceptibility, although a few cases are caused primarily by genes, endocrine disorders, medications or psychiatric illness. Authorities view it as one of the most serious public health problems of the 21st century.
For schools however, it is a very frustrating problem to have. According to Rwanda Education Board and Ministry of Health, boarding schools are required and are closely monitored to provide a well-balanced sugar free diet to students.
Parents on the other hand, who feel uncomfortable about with the school diets often visit their children to hand them care packs of biscuits, packed cereals, chocolate bars and the like. I have even had a few students stand their ground and argue that a certain brand of soft drink is ‘juice’.
I have deep memories from 2009 when I was a classroom teacher in Northern Province of a student who had returned from the holidays and slept on the desk almost every lesson, day after day. Being patient for about a week, I finally could no longer accept such behaviour in my lessons and sought to find out what was wrong.
I took the student aside in the lunch break to learn of a sad story. During the holidays this student’s only family are aging grandparents, and with their meagre plot of land, manage to grow enough Irish potatoes to raise little money for the grandmother’s medical expenses. The student’s ration was one rather small and so the boy was so weak he could barely hold himself up in class. This is one boy I doubt will suffer obesity but needs to be fed better.
Students’ lack of physical activity is another ‘bug bare’ of mine. I have been in schools in Rwanda long enough to notice the absolute laziness of our young people, especially girls. Mentioned earlier was reduced life expectancy. Partly this is likely because the muscle tissue in the body, if unused, basically dies. Use it or lose it. This generation of young people may not have the array of sporting role models as in the west, however, surely there is some intrinsic motivation inside to make an effort and pursue an active lifestyle.
Rwanda is addressing all these issues through education. Physical activity is a lifestyle. Eating habits is a lifestyle. Understanding the five food groups and teaching them is important to develop good eating habits.
With development comes an increased variety of healthy food but also comes the variety of unhealthy food. With unhealthy food comes lots of packaging and non-recyclable materials. Obesity is a product of all that has been said. Let us not need to find a Kinyarwanda word for obesity. Let us deal with it before obesity deals with us.
The writer is the deputy principal, students welfare, at Riviera High School