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Editorial: Tackling obesity

Published:Friday | July 31, 2015 | 12:00 AM

As Jamaicans show their patriotic side during these Emancipation/ Independence celebrations, it is a given that appetising delicacies and rich ethnic foods will take centre stage right up there with the entertainment of all genres. The fact that many members of the adult population are overweight will not have the slightest effect on the gastronomical excesses that holidays tend to encourage.

At the risk of stealing everyone's joy, we urge caution and advise moderation in the face of some sobering statistics which point to the fact that one in five children in Jamaica carries an unhealthy weight which puts that child at risk of developing cardiovascular diseases such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Being overweight is also associated with several types of cancers and musculoskeletal conditions. The obese child is also at greater risk of bone and joint problems and sleep apnea, as well as social problems such as stigmatisation and bullying.

Obesity is one of the risk factors driving the non-communicable disease (NCD) epidemic in the region, according to research findings by the Caribbean Public Health Agency. And obesity is the result of 'caloric imbalance', meaning that too few calories are expended for the amount consumed.


Multi-sectoral approach

It is against that background that local and international health-care officials met in Kingston earlier this week in search of a multi-sectoral approach to tackle childhood and adolescent obesity. In addressing the group, Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson spoke of the Cabinet-approved National Strategic and Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of NCDs 2013 to 2018.

Since our eating habits are sharply influenced by genetic, cultural and environmental factors, this action plan needs to be clearly articulated and well publicised so that all sectors, including those in food preparation as well as school administrators, get a clear understanding of the importance of paying attention to diet. For example, this policy should offer tools and tips for struggling families who are not able to buy adequate amounts of vegetables and fruits for a healthy diet. This is necessary in order to achieve a shift towards more healthy and sustainable eating habits within the population.

Targeting children and adolescents is an excellent idea because child obesity has both immediate and long-term effects on the health and well-being of a nation. For example, the cost to society, meaning taxpayers, for treating lifestyle diseases such as hypertension and diabetes amounts to millions of dollars.

So, it is a fact that food choices definitely affect one's health, and it is commendable to see institutions like the University of Technology initiating a healthy-eating campaign. Hopefully, this campaign will successfully encourage more adolescents to adopt the behavioural changes necessary for appropriate weight control.

The multi-sectoral approach to tackling obesity must include the homes where most of the daily calories are obtained, and schools which already play a fundamental role in shaping healthy behaviours and where goals can be set for nutrition and physical activity.

Good nutrition is vital to optimal health. Therefore, we encourage everyone this holiday season to add more joy and not pounds to your lives.