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Too much fluffy is dangerous for your health - High percentage of Jamaican women overweight

Published:Wednesday | April 2, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Dr Kevin Harvey, acting chief medical officer in the Ministry of Health.
Several fat women wear their weight proudly.
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 Anastasia Cunningham, Health Coordinator

Despite popular belief, there is nothing healthy about being a 'strong, healthy body, fluffy' woman. In fact, having too much 'meat on your bones' is the number one causative factor of death worldwide, including Jamaica.

"It is not healthy to be obese. In fact, obesity ultimately leads to chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, stroke and cancer. And NCDs account for 70 per cent of all deaths in the country," Dr Kevin Harvey, acting chief medical officer in the Ministry of Health, told Your Health.

"Obesity is the most prevalent chronic disorder in Jamaica and the number of obese people in Jamaica is alarmingly high, particularly among adult women.

"So you can imagine the challenges, as obesity is linked to our diet, consumption of alcohol and our physical inactivity. There is no doubt that overweight is a predominant health problem worldwide and is regarded as one of the most important health threats in most countries."

Jamaica has long had a culture of men with a preference for 'fluffy' women and the women enabling that, with studies showing that Jamaica has a significantly high percentage of overweight women.

According to a World Bank study, 60 per cent of Jamaicans aged 35 to 54 were either overweight or obese. It also revealed that 70 per cent of Jamaican women were overweight, 80 per cent of whom were in the 35-54 age group. From as early as adolescence, more Caribbean women are overweight than men.

Abdominal obesity is seen in 36.2 per cent of Jamaicans, compared to 41 per cent and 45 per cent, respectively, of women in St Lucia and Barbados.

"My man say him like how my body strong and firm. A suh him like it and a suh me ago keep it 'cause me want keep him," Sandra shared from her stall in Cross Roads, when asked about the findings in the study.

"Him love mi thick legs and big bottom, suh why me woulda want change that? Me haffi please me man 'cause me nuh want him guh find somebody else," Carleen added.

For the men, John affirmed, "me nuh want nuh slimmas, a pure thickas me a defend."

"My woman haffi well round up and have body. Wey me a duh wid maga, bony gal wey aguh lost when me hold har? She nuh have nutten fi me hold on to," bus conductor Paul said.

However, Harvey pointed out, "I understand the cultural issues we have with the 'fluffy' mentality, but there is a grave health risk with being fluffy, and so we have to move away from it and look at the many health-related issues that obesity brings. Obesity is a major cause for concern, which is having a tremendous impact on our society."

OBESITY MEDICAL COST

He said the condition accounts for two to six per cent of total health-care cost in several developed countries, while expenditure on diet products is averaging $100 billion in the United States alone. In fact, according to a World Bank study, the medical cost attributed to obesity in the US is $78 billion per year.

He added, "Many people look at themselves and say they look fine, but there is a very specific guideline that determines if you are obese, when you examine your height in relation to your weight."

Noting that obesity significantly decreases one's life expectancy, particularly doubling the mortality rate among women, Harvey said the problem affects all social classes.

He said international comparative analysis reveals that the obesity risk in Jamaica is on the high end of the global scale. A study done by Durazo-Arvizu (Durazo-Arvizu 2008) analysed obesity prevalence in the US, Nigeria, and Jamaica and showed that the unadjusted weight gain per year in Jamaica was four times higher than that of Americans and Nigerians.

For example, he said, the unadjusted weight gained per year by Jamaicans is 1.26kg for men and 1.28kg for women. This is four times the rate in Nigeria and the US and is sustained by an increased consumption of more energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods with high levels of sugar and saturated fats, combined with reduced physical activity.

TOO MUCH FAT AND SUGAR

The doctor said the main reason causing obesity was that the average fat intake today for individuals was 160 per cent of the suggested daily requirement, and for sugars, it was 250 per cent. Added to that are excessive alcohol consumption and a sedentary lifestyle.

"Obesity poses a serious threat to the nation's health and economy. There is no question that it is having an adverse effect on the productivity sector and must be addressed. If you just look at the absenteeism of workers because of illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, breast cancer and colon cancer, and so on, you will see what I mean," he said.

Harvey added, "We would really like to see Jamaicans start looking at their diet in a more sensible way to reduce the amount of fat, sugar and salt, and, therefore, pay attention to their calorie intake. Reduction in the use of alcohol is also key, while increasing the consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grain. There also needs to be an increase in regular physical activity.

"Gaining weight is far easier than losing it, so prevention is much better than cure."

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are now approximately 350 million obese and more than one billion overweight people in the world, living in both developed and developing countries.

WHO projects that by 2015, approximately 2.3 billion adults will be overweight and more than 700 million will be obese. Childhood obesity places future generations at high risk of obesity.

"Policies to regulate calories, ensure food security and create a supportive environment to encourage physical activities are urgently required to mitigate the impact of obesity on health care cost, morbidity and mortality and, in fact, overall quality of life," Harvey declared.

anastasia.cunningham@gleanerjm.com