By Gatonye Gathura
University students are not eating well, are sleeping poorly and are not active enough and it has started showing in their health.
A medical screening report of 323 students at Mt Kenya University, Thika Campus also shows many are spending too much time behind computers, mobile phones and TV screens.
The results showed significantly worrying levels of high blood sugar, blood fat and cholesterol, all telltale signs of heart problems and diabetes.
“There is a general misconception that young adults in ages between 18 and 25 years are healthy but this study shows otherwise,” says the report published last month in the journal BMC Public Health.
The work was carried out by Samuel Mungai Mbugua of Mt Kenya University, Samuel Thuo Kimani of the University of Nairobi and Gilbert Munyoki of Kenyatta University.
It calls for a drastic change of lifestyle among the young university population in Kenya.
The trio was investigating the presence of three disorders; blood sugar, body fat and hypertension, jointly referred to as Metabolic Syndrome or MS.
These disorders put an individual at a higher risk of heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and sudden cardiac death.
Half of the girls, slightly higher than boys, recorded at least one of these conditions.
Almost twenty per cent of girls were overweight compared to 12 per cent of boys with the number of obese women about three times that of males.
The percentage of females with a wide girth was six times that of males. More males than women had high blood pressure.
To establish the health status of the students the team had tested them for blood sugar, body fat and blood pressure.
Secondly the team had collected data on the students’ physical activities, sleeping and eating habits.
It was established that about 60 per cent of the study population did not exercise frequently.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 150 minutes of modest or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week for this age group of about 23 years.
More than a third of the study participants reported sleeping for 5 – 6 hours against the WHO recommendation of 7-8 hours for such young adults.
A whole 73 per cent reported constant snacking on various processed foods while watching television or on computers or other types of screens.
Data on diet and dietary habits showed that only about 13 per cent of the participants had good nutritional intake. The rest said they were concerned about their nutritional status.
About 10 per cent had poor eating habits. About 85 per cent were not aware of the amount of calories consumed in a day.
More than a third of the study group reported to take at least one soft drink in a day.
The consequence of this lifestyle was confirmed from the lab results showing a quarter of the students to have high levels of blood fat called triglycerides.
Fifteen per cent had high levels of cholesterol with a smaller number with elevated levels of blood sugar and high blood pressure in that order.
This being the first study on MS among university students in in Kenya, the authors say the results show a lifestyle that is putting young lives at the risk of chronic disease in later life.
The study calls for deliberate efforts to modify the dietary, physical activity, sleeping and screen habits of this population as part of the bigger initiative to prevent the rising incidence of chronic diseases.
At A Glance
- 323 university students screened
- 24 per cent had high levels of blood fat (triglycerides)
- 15 per cent cholesterol
- 5 per cent overweight
- 7 per cent obese
- Number of obese women three times that of males
- 3 per cent sleep for 5-6 hours
- 7 per cent with poor eating habits
- 8 per cent take one soft drink in a day