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Death feast - Stressed-out Jamaicans commit suicide through unhealthy foods

Published:Monday | August 1, 2016 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
Professor Marvin Reid

Consultant psychiatrist and wellness advocate Dr Anthony Allen believes the increased level of mental stress being faced by many Jamaicans is contributing to scores of persons slowly committing suicide by gorging on unhealthy foods.

According to Dr Allen, several Jamaicans are using unhealthy foods to cope with issues such as crime, sexual and domestic abuse, family conflicts, poverty and unemployment, and this has inadvertently contributed to the hike in non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, hypertension and heart diseases.

"People may not commit suicide in the traditional way, but many people are committing suicide by how they eat and by overstressing themselves," said Dr Allen. "Looking at it in a broad way, stress contributes to an increased desire to eat for relief, because foods that are high in sugar and even fat cause an increase in dopamine in the brain, and that can give a sensation of pleasure," noted the consultant psychiatrist who has more than 40 years experience in the field.

He added: "Sugar is almost as addictive as cocaine and the fact is that manufacturers of fast food and processed foods put sugar in these processed foods. Some of them are more obvious, like soft drinks and ice cream and cakes and pastries and all of these things. But you have other types of foods where you wouldn't expect to see sugar, but if you look closely, you'll see that sugar is there."




Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton noted, in his recent contribution to the 2016 Sectoral Debate, that three-quarters or more of Jamaicans between the ages of 15 and 74 consume one or more bottles of a sweetened beverages per day, and 99 per cent of Jamaicans are consuming below the daily recommended portions of vegetables.

Tufton has suggested that Jamaicans try to exercise more and eat healthier foods to combat the increase in NCDs, but Allen believes the elimination of stress should also be part of the discourse on fighting NCDs.

"Sometimes people who are very stressed out lack energy and find it more difficult to exercise," said Allen, who is an advocate for wholesome living.

Professor Marvin Reid, the director of the Tropical Metabolism Research Unit at the University of the West Indies, also believes that stress is a contributing factor to NCDs which, according to Tufton, is the biggest threat to Jamaica's health sector and economy.

"Most animals will eat only when they are hungry. Humans will eat according to their mood. The choice of food that they eat is also dependent on their mood; so if you are happy, you will tend to exert more self-control over the type of things that you eat. When you are sad, you eat every and anything and sometimes you may chose foods that bring comfort to you," said Reid.

He noted that stress is just one contributing factor to NCDs.

"You can have skinny people who have high blood pressure and you can have skinny people who get diabetes. But if you were to take 10 persons who have diabetes or hypertension; of those 10 persons, on the women side, probably about two-thirds are likely to be overweight or obese; and on the male side, about a third of the males are likely to be overweight or obese," added Reid.

Apart from reducing stress, Reid advocates healthy eating and an increase in physical activities to fight NCDs.

"Somebody who tends to be physically active oftentimes ends up being in a much better mental state. You tend to have better control and if you have better control, you tend to eat more for your body physiology rather than for comfort."