Obesity among Kenyans Leads to Boom In Physical Fitness Business

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Increasingly, more and more Kenyans are being considered overweight or obese, and the situation was made worse with the Covid-19 pandemic which locked more Kenyans indoors, forcing them to sedentary lifestyles.

While this phenomenon increased awareness of well-being, most Kenyans have been lopped into a global wellness economy estimated to be worth $4.4 trillion (Sh520 trillion) in 2020, according to a 2021 global wellness economy study by Global Wellness Institute (GWI).

Experts say that the wellness sector is now attracting more Kenyan firms into that space which entails healthy eating, personal care, beauty and weight-loss spa retreats among others. They are only scratching the surface, says the experts.

New revenue streams

“More Kenyans are now health conscious and the need to boost their immunity to contain exposure from Covid-19 and related illnesses has grown exponentially. What this has done in return, is to extend revenue streams to those running facilities like gyms and beauty spas for instance,” notes Henry Ng’ethe, Chairman of the Nutrition Association of Kenya (NAK) – a lobbying body for nutritionists and dieticians in the country.

The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found the prevalence of obesity among Kenyans to be 60.3 per cent among urban residents and 19.5 per cent among rural residents.

Higher risk, according to the 2018 study, was tilted in favour of women living in town settlements and such overweight women are increasingly consuming high-calorie and high-fat foodies without giving a hoot.

Ng’ethe believes that the quoted statistics may have more than doubled since the pandemic and now worryingly, he says, men are now paying the price of ‘working from home’ guides announced by the government at the time to contain the virus’ spread.

“More male gender are now obese and this poses higher risks for future non-communicable diseases for obese individuals,” he noted.

One would think there might be a problem here,  however, pharmaceuticals and wellness centres are rapidly minting multibillions to manage emerging diseases that come with this condition.

More money is also going to the weight-loss market which also encompasses gyms, home fitness, fad diets, crash diets, magazines and newspaper segments that now feature tutorials on how to stay fit, lean and healthy. A market research and analytics firm by Euro monitor International shows Kenya’s Health and Wellness Tourism recorded sales of Sh2.5 billion.

Sector still growing

“This is a sector that will grow like a bushfire and is well managed like the M-Pesa invention and the general Fintech space for example because the growing tech-savvy population will offer groundbreaking solutions in the healthcare system,” offered John Kirimi, an independent financial analyst.

Kirimi however, cautions that for the sector to witness the expected boom – which he forecasts will fully take shape in two years, the government must not rush to regulate the sector – but rather, allow it to grow before relevant policies and regulations are put in place to safeguard the sector’s investments and its potential.

“Today we are seeing patients getting a diagnosis overseas without having to physically visit medical facilities. This is the future and it will not take long before such innovations hit the Kenyan market, but that will need a lot of support from the government,” he said.

Companies like QNET –a Hong Kong-based e-commerce based direct selling company offering a wide range of health, wellness and lifestyle products, is one of brands that have seen a boost in revenue sales across its East African market including Kenya, owing to increased awareness in wellbeing among consumers.

Increase in awareness

The firm whose products include vitamin and mineral supplements that are widely consumed locally estimates that the wellness market will grow by 30 per cent year-on-year in East Africa as wellness is now being prioritized by most conscious-driven Kenyans.

Weight loss treatments help one lose inches and fat by about 60 per cent more effectively but are considered costly among middle-class Kenyans and naturally need consistency.

To keep fit in Nairobi for example, Gym membership ordinarily costs around Sh5,000 – 7,000 per month. Some gyms are more expensive, but they also offer cheaper rates for longer membership plans which are usually longer than 3 months or one year. Before the pandemic, monthly rates for such facilities were around Sh3, 500 and Sh5, 500.