Low fruit and vegetable intake kills hundreds of East Africans in their prime and if the trend does not change by 2030, health experts warn, people younger than 40 will go to an early grave.
The WHO and Food Agriculture Organisation estimate 27 per cent of all deaths that occur in the East African region — are attributable to low fruit and vegetable consumption.
“Low fruit and vegetable intake are among the top 10 selected risk factors for mortality,” WHO’s senior expert, Godfrey Xuereb said recently at a workshop on the Promotion of Fruits and Vegetables for Health in Arusha.
Globally, insufficient intake of fruit and vegetables is estimated to cause around 14 per cent of gastro-intestinal cancer deaths, about 11 per cent of anaemic heart disease failures and nine per cent of deaths as a result of stroke.
A recent WHO/FAO expert consultation report on diet, nutrition and prevention of chronic diseases, sets population nutrient goals and recommends intake of a minimum of 0.4 kg of fruits and vegetables per day for the prevention of chronic diseases such as heart diseases cancer, diabetes and obesity.
The report states there is convincing evidence that adequate consumption of fruits and vegetables decreases the risk of obesity, stomach and colorectal cancer and diabetes.
Further, there is convincing evidence that fruit and vegetables lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Mr Xuereb, a WHO technical officer on surveillance and population-based prevention in the Department of Chronic Diseases and Health Promotion says fruits and vegetable consumption in the EAC stands at 38 per cent of the recommended ratio.
WHO and FAO experts recommends 146 kg per capita consumption of fruits and vegetables, but Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania’s consumption stand at 80 kg per capita, equivalent to 38 per cent of the recommended amount.
“The East African populations are not eating nearly enough fruits and vegetables, despite the fact that they are the major producers,” Mr Xuereb explained.
Most people in Kenya consume 0.3kg of fruits and veggies a day per person, 0.1 kg below the recommended dietary guidelines.
WHO report show that Kenya’s fruits and veggies consumption stands at 115kg per capita, equivalent to nearly 79 per cent of the required ratio. Non-communicable diseases are estimated to account for 28 per cent of all deaths in Kenya.
Ugandans eat nearly 0.2kg of vegetables and fruits per day per person.
The per capita consumption for Ugandans of 65kg, accounts for around 45 per cent of the 146kg recommended by WHO and FAO.
As a result non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are estimated to account for 25 per cent of all deaths in Uganda.
In Tanzania, Mr Xuereb says, the situation is worse as every Tanzania eat 0.164kg per day or only 60kg per capita consumption.
This is 41 per cent of the recommended consumption.
Tanzania’s Minister for Agriculture, Food Security and Co-operatives, Prof Jumanne Maghembe, said, diets rich in fruits and vegetables lower the risk of many types of cancer, stroke, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases.
The chairman of the Horticulture Development Council of Tanzania, Felix Mosha, decried the “microwave” revolution that drives a number of people into junk food with deep fried potato chips mixed with scrambled eggs, popularly known as “Chips mayai” becoming a staple, among mostly urban youths and women.
Mr Mosha cited Netherlands where fruit and vegetable intake is much higher, some 8,000 people die annually from its deficiency, while the entire European Union has recorded 26,000 deaths a year.
The Director of Crop Development in the Ministry of Agriculture, Geoffrey Kirenga, said the majority of people go for over a month without eating a single fruit, adding that deaths from fruit and vegetable deficiency could be alarming.
Tanzania Horticulture Association executive director Jacqueline Mkindi says her organisation is working out a sensitisation strategy in a bid to raise the intake of fruits and veggies within the local community.
“We are also preparing a Horticulture Fair in Arusha in the near future where we will be able to promote the regional horticulture potential as well as the local consumption of fruits and veggies,” Ms Mkindi said.
Other findings in the report indicate that only 3 per cent of all fruits and 15 per cent of all vegetables are consumed by people when they go to restaurants.
Horticulture Development Council of Tanzania executive director, Jacqueline Laisser said, “In our case, affordability and accessibility of vegetables and fruits is not an issue, the issue is attitude…for many people, to eat veggies is regarded as poverty. We must change” Ms Laisser noted