It’s hardly news that junk food and obesity are linked. However, we seldom think about the impact of the fast food chains and processed food companies mushrooming in our country. Kenyans will spend hours in queues just to get a taste (or take pics for the gram) of the newest American eateries or European snacks as soon as they become available locally, but do we really think about the long-term effects on our health and economy?

An article recently published on The New York Times website described in detail how the multinational Nestlé is making its mark on the Brazilian market. The article begins with the story of Celene da Silva, a 29-year-old woman who is one of thousands of door-to-door vendors for Nestlé. Through her work, she helps the world’s largest packed foods conglomerate expand its reach into 250,000 households in Brazil’s furthest-flung corners. Andrew Jacobs and Matt Richtel wrote:

“Nestlé’s direct-sales army in Brazil is part of a broader transformation of the food system that is delivering Western-style processed food and sugary drinks to the most isolated pockets of Latin America, Africa and Asia. As their growth slows in the wealthiest countries, multinational food companies like Nestlé, PepsiCo and General Mills have been aggressively expanding their presence in developing nations, unleashing a marketing juggernaut that is upending traditional diets from Brazil to Ghana to India.

A New York Times examination of corporate records, epidemiological studies and government reports — as well as interviews with scores of nutritionists and health experts around the world — reveals a sea change in the way food is produced, distributed and advertised across much of the globe. The shift, many public health experts say, is contributing to a new epidemic of diabetes and heart disease, chronic illnesses that are fed by soaring rates of obesity in places that struggled with hunger and malnutrition just a generation ago.

The new reality is captured by a single, stark fact: Across the world, more people are now obese than underweight. At the same time, scientists say, the growing availability of high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods is generating a new type of malnutrition, one in which a growing number of people are both overweight and undernourished.

There are now more than 700 million obese people worldwide, 108 million of them children, according to research published recently in The New England Journal of Medicine. The prevalence of obesity has doubled in 73 countries since 1980, contributing to four million premature deaths, the study found.

For a growing number of nutritionists, the obesity epidemic is inextricably linked to the sales of packaged foods, which grew 25 percent worldwide from 2011 to 2016, compared with 10 percent in the United States

In many ways, Brazil is a microcosm of how growing incomes and government policies have led to longer, better lives and largely eradicated hunger. But now the country faces a stark new nutrition challenge: over the last decade, the country’s obesity rate has nearly doubled to 20 percent, and the portion of people who are overweight has nearly tripled to 58 percent. Each year, 300,000 people are diagnosed with Type II diabetes, a condition with strong links to obesity.”

Seeing as more and more processed foods are making their way into the Kenyan market, is it possible that we are headed in the same direction as Brazil?

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