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Research Article

Child obesity and fitness levels among Kenyan and Canadian children from urban and rural environments: A KIDS-CAN Research Alliance Study

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Pages e225-232 | Received 19 Mar 2010, Accepted 21 Nov 2010, Published online: 03 Jan 2011


Objective. This study was designed to gather anthropometric and fitness-related data on Kenyan children living in urban (UKEN) and rural (RKEN) environments and to compare them with previous data collected on Canadian children in order to examine the potential nutrition-physical activity transition. Methods. Height, weight, waist circumference, triceps skinfolds were directly measured on rural (RKEN) and urban Kenyan (UKEN) children (n = 179, 9–13 years) and compared with existing data from Canadian children living in urban and rural environments (n = 274, 9–13 years). Aerobic fitness was measured using the 20 m shuttle run, flexibility using the sit-and-reach test and isometric handgrip strength was assessed. Results. None of the RKEN children were overweight or obese (OWO). However, 6.8% of UKEN boys and 16.7% of girls were OWO. The RKEN children had lower BMI, waist circumference, and triceps skinfolds than all other groups (UKEN, and Canadian: p < 0.05). UKEN children were leaner than Canadian children (p < 0.05). Male and female RKEN children had higher running speeds, and aerobic fitness than UKEN children (p < 0.001). Isometric strength was not different between Kenyan groups and was not different from urban living Canadian children. UKEN children were the least flexible group, and girls were more flexible than boys in all groups. Conclusions. Urban Kenyan children appear to be showing signs of the nutrition-physical activity transition, as judged by the anthropometric similarities to contemporary living Canadian children. Further support is provided by examining the difference in prevalence of overweight/obesity among UKEN compared with their RKEN counterparts and their lower aerobic fitness level.


This study was supported by an International Opportunities Partnership grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Institute of Nutrition, Metabolism and Diabetes (OPD–83181). The authors wish to extend thanks to all of the school children who enthusiastically participated in this study. We must also acknowledge the great support and co-operation of the Head teachers, as well as the Physical Education and Games teachers from each of the data collection sites. We are grateful to both Wilfred Bungei and Philip Boit for their assistance in liaising with the rural Kenyan schools. We acknowledge Wai-May Wong for her assistance with the database design and data entry. Finally, we acknowledge the effort of the students from Kenyatta University, Department of Exercise, Recreation and Sport Science who volunteered to help with data collection at the urban sites.

Declaration of interest: The authors report no conflicts of interest. The authors alone are responsible for the content and writing of the paper.

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