Fight obesity to ensure a healthier life

Last week, Slim n’ Fit in partnership with Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC) and Access Bank, held a ceremony to honour the top weight loss contestant of its first season in Kigali.

Slim n’ Fit, a campaign against obesity, started early last year. The ceremony saw the ‘best weight loser’ walk away with Rwf 100,000 courtesy of Access Bank.

Dina Mutamba, a 39-year-old was the winner —she managed to drop 8.5 kgs in a span of three months.

She joined the camp weighing 90.5 kgs. According to her, she used to be active with sports but her eating habits were poor. After realising this, she made the necessary changes that contributed to her weight loss.

Mutamba (L) the winner of Slim n’ Fit season one at the award ceremony. / Courtesy

The camp had 20 participants; the remaining 19 were rewarded with certificates of completion.

The centre hosts the 90-day biggest weight loser challenge quarterly, and registration for season two is ongoing.

In the camp, there is also a wellness centre that educates, inspires, supports and empowers its members to explore healthier lifestyles, as prevention against obesity.

The campaign targets overweight and obese women, where they are set up in the camp for a period of three months, with the aim of changing their lifestyles in order to shed off some kilogrammes, and after, learn how to stick to the right diet even when out of the camp, thus maintaining a healthy weight.

Florence Uwamwezi, the chairperson and founder of the centre, says members are helped to achieve their weight goals in a simple, supportive, structured and most importantly, enjoyable way.

This is done through three strong pillars which include mindset change; that is, shifting your mindset about how to lose weight, which they believe it’s the biggest factor in losing weight.

Another pillar is nutrition habits; she says weight loss occurs when there is a calorie deficit, which means that the total calories one eats are less than the total calories burned.

Smart workouts is another pillar where they believe that to lose weight, your body has to be burning more calories than it takes in (when the out-calories are more than the in-calories, we lose weight), a difficult thing to do if you aren’t actively working out.

Since overweight and obesity are associated with an elevated risk of several major non-communicable diseases, including type 2 diabetes, coronary heart diseases, stroke, asthma and several types of cancers, the campaign aims at keeping overweight women away from these ailments.

In the camp, women are assisted in balancing physical, emotional, mental and spiritual wellbeing, and guiding them into a better lifestyle.

STIGMA FROM COMMUNITY

Professor Joseph Mucumbitsi, a cardiologist and the president of Rwanda Heart Foundation, says women who are obese or overweight suffer silently because of the stigma from community and society at large.

This, he says, prevents them from seeking the right support, which forces them to continue living an unhealthy lifestyle.

“Slim n’ Fit is a good initiative because it can help prevent cases of obesity among women, thus preventing some deaths that occur due to this. When they are fighting obesity, they are fighting also majority of NCDs including cancers,” he says.

Mucumbitsi notes that there is a link between obesity and non-communicable diseases, including metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome, he says, is a cluster of conditions that occur together, increasing one’s risk of heart diseases, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

A participant of Slim n’ Fit is applauded by an official. / Courtesy

These conditions include; increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels.

Mucumbitsi says available statistics show that 40 per cent of the deaths happening in Rwanda are due to NCDs. In the region, more than 43 per cent of deaths are due to NCDs while more than 52 per cent of the outpatients’ consultations in district hospitals are due to NCDs as well.

He says the number is likely to increase because of too many risk factors such as inactivity, poor diet and many others that people are exposed to.

However, he stresses that it’s important if parents also consider introducing a healthy diet to avoid cases of obesity in the future, adding that children being the future of the country, their health should be taken seriously.

“Schools should also aim at providing healthy diets because these young people spend most of the time there,” he adds.

UNDERSTANDING OBESITY AND ITS CAUSES

Dr Everest Ntaganda, the head of non-communicable disease division at RBC, says obesity is a medical condition that occurs when a person carries excess weight or body fat that might affect their health.

He says a person suffers obesity if they have a high body mass index, explaining that body mass index (BMI) is a tool that healthcare providers use to assess if a person is at an appropriate weight for their age, sex, and height, whereby the measurement combines height and weight.

For instance, a BMI between 25 and 29.9 indicates that a person is carrying excess weight. A BMI of 30 or over suggests that a person may be obese. 

Other factors, such as the ratio of waist-to-hip size, waist-to-height, and the amount and distribution of fat on the body, also play a role in determining how healthy a person’s weight is.

“If a person does have excess weight, this can increase their risk of developing a number of health conditions, including metabolic syndrome, arthritis and some types of cancer,” he says.

Metabolic syndrome, he says, involves a collection of issues, such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Ntaganda adds that maintaining a healthy weight, or losing through diet and exercise, is one way to prevent or reduce obesity, although in some cases, a person may need surgery.

Ministry of Health NCDs steps survey 2015 in Rwanda indicates that, NCDs risk factors which are smoking is at 12.9 per cent, alcohol at 41.3 per cent, raised blood sugar at 15.9 per cent, raised cholesterol at 2.9 while overweight and obesity stand at 16.2 per cent.

NUTRITION

According to Demographic Health Survey carried out in 2010, it indicates that 16 per cent of women in reproductive health (15 to 48 years) are obese, while those under the age of five are at five percent.

However, in 2015, which is the latest statistic, it shows that these figures rose to 8 per cent in children under five while women in reproductive age stand at 21 per cent.

Dr Alex Mucumbitsi, head of Nutrition and hygiene Department at National Early Childhood Development Program, says these figures are likely to increase because of the lifestyle people are exposed to.

He says nutrition plays a big role when it comes to reducing or gaining weight.

He says, for instance, if a person consumes more calories than they use as energy, their body will store the extra calories as fat. This can lead to excess weight and obesity.

Also, Mucumbitsi says some types of foods are more likely to lead to weight gain, especially those that are high in fats and sugars.

He goes on to add that foods that tend to increase the risk of weight gain include, fast foods, fried foods, such as French fries, fatty and processed meats, many dairy products, foods with added sugar, such as baked goods, ready-made breakfast cereals, and cookies, among others.

According to him, some processed food products contain high-fructose corn syrup as a sweetener, including savoury items, such as ketchup.

“Eating too much of these foods and doing too little exercise can result in weight gain and obesity,” he observes.

He adds that also, a person who consumes a diet that consists mainly of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and water, may still be at risk of gaining excess weight if they overeat, or have genetic factors.

However, Mucumbitsi says such people are more likely to enjoy a varied diet while maintaining a healthy weight. Fresh foods and whole grains contain fibre, which makes a person feel full for longer and encourages healthy digestion. 

OTHER CAUSES OF OBESITY

Mucumbitsi notes that other factors, such as leading a sedentary lifestyle, put one at risk of gaining more weight than required.

He says today, many people lead a much more sedentary lifestyle than before.

These include working in an office for long hours without any physical activity and playing games on a computer instead of doing physical activities outside, for young children.

“These people most of the time own cars and they use them whenever they are going to places instead of walking. The less a person moves around, the fewer calories they burn,” he notes.

Also, physical activity affects how a person’s hormones work, and hormones have an impact on how the body processes food.

Several studies have shown that physical activity can help to keep insulin levels stable and that unstable insulin levels may lead to weight gain.

Mucumbitsi says when we talk about physical activity, it doesn’t necessarily mean going to gym. It can be doing physical work, walking or cycling, climbing stairs, and household tasks.

However, he says, the type and intensity of activity may affect the degree to which it benefits the body in the short and long-term.

Research has also suggested that missing sleep increases the risk of gaining weight and suffering obesity.

editorial@newtimesrwanda.com

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