Thu | Dec 8, 2016

Editorial: Diet challenge this Christmas

Published:Saturday | December 20, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Obesity is not a subject many would want to think about during this festive season when cheer and goodwill are being spread all around. Obesity is derived from the Latin word 'obesus', which loosely translates to mean 'intensive eating'.

The fact, though, is that the many parties and family gatherings tend to wreak havoc on healthy-eating plans and weight-management programmes during this season of overindulgence.

It is estimated that on Christmas Day alone, some persons could consume up to four times more than the recommended daily intake of calories. And over the period of, say, two weeks, it is not unusual for persons to gain between one and five pounds. How many can afford this, though?

Indeed, Christmas is considered a high culinary event, and Jamaica has on offer such a potpourri of mouth-watering delights that a Christmas celebration can quickly turn into an orgy of feasting.

Although it may sound unreasonable to eat and drink sensibly during this season, as a responsible news organisation, we urge moderation and self-control for the simple reason that the weight gain that can result from overindulgence could place an individual at risk for serious health problems, including diabetes, coronary heart disease, hypertension, cancer and stroke. All of these problems can eventually lead to life-threatening illnesses.

Burden on the health system

For a long time, health-care officials have expressed their concerns about increasing body weight and unhealthy lifestyle choices, which they have said create a burden on the health system. It is estimated that some US$170 million is spent annually in the public health-care system to treat non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which are also described as lifestyle diseases. And one in six deaths in Jamaica is attributed to lifestyle diseases.

Even though Jamaica has been implementing CARICOM-recommended programmes to reduce lifestyle diseases through an NCD committee that seeks, among other things, to regulate calories and ensure food security, Jamaica stands at No. 53 in the World Health Organization's (WHO) life-expectancy ranking.

In terms of the Caribbean, Jamaica falls behind Dominica at 35, Cuba at 39, Barbados at 46, and the Dominican Republic at 51. It means that Jamaica urgently needs to assess the effectiveness of its programmes to determine whether it needs to adopt a more aggressive, perhaps legislative, approach to ensure dramatic results in the reduction of NCDs associated with obesity.

So even though we recognise that the ultimate responsibility lies with an individual, the Government has a job to provide ethical leadership in such matters. Specifically, there is need to create a broad strategy to tackle obesity within the population, including the schools.

It remains for each individual to make a commitment to a holistic well-being by cultivating restraint over this festive season. Even small changes can go a far way in preventing chronic diseases.