Mon | Oct 18, 2021

Editorial | New paths to treat obesity

Published:Saturday | March 6, 2021 | 12:09 AM

Obesity is a chronic medical condition and, taken as an overall health indicator of a country, Jamaica and others in the region have many reasons to be worried. Excessive increase in body fat, which is what obesity is, can lead to diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart problems.

Alarming statistics released Thursday on World Obesity Day cited the rising obesity levels in children in the Caribbean, which are among the highest rates in the Americas. “With the obesity pandemic in children and adolescents, the future seen through the risk-factor lens for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) looks dismal, as these young persons will be the future working generation but living with higher rates of NCDs,” said the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA).

This is why we feel it is imperative for every Jamaican household to have a conversation about the serious health risks that obesity or overweight poses. There is, for example, new research which indicates that children born to mothers who eat lots of processed food packed with sugar and salt face a higher risk of obesity.

Further, the researchers confirm that obesity in childhood often carries into adulthood and is associated with a higher risk of Type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and other health problems.

LADEN WITH FAT

Therefore, the conversation in households should go something like this, ‘Jamaican food is “wicked” for all of its rich flavours and great taste but it is unfortunately laden with fat, calories, sugar and salt’. Besides, portion size tends to be too large. Having had such a conversation, it seems that the practical thing to do is for families to set their own agenda for actions that would result in better choices to help them achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Notwithstanding the above, it cannot be the view that overweight or obesity is a personal issue. It has become a national issue, particularly because COVID-19 has highlighted the vulnerability of people with obesity and other NCDs. The social and economic consequences of obesity should be of immediate concern to policymakers and citizens alike. But what will it take to get people to act responsibly?

The four pillars on which the World Health Organization (WHO) rests its obesity campaign are: increasing awareness, encouraging advocacy, improving policies and sharing experiences.

We cast our minds back to another lifestyle disease, that of HIV/AIDS, where personal choices created a disease which caused a worldwide pandemic. The disease demanded lifestyle modifications and there was a global effort around prevention and treatment strategies, which eventually brought it under control.

So, as soon as more people understand that the condition of obesity harms not just an individual but speaks to the collective well-being of a country, we may see a more national approach to solving the problem.

Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton has been listening to healthcare officials and he understands the gravity of obesity as a health issue. He began an assault on sugary drinks in the school system, but obviously that programme would have been curtailed by COVID-19 interrupting school activities and has perhaps created a missed opportunity for attacking obesity from that front.

It seems that new paths must be found to treat obesity, but we cannot abandon the old paths that offered great promise for collaboration and treatment.

CORRIGENDUM

In the Friday, March 5 editorial ‘UWI report needs to be tabled in Parliament’ discussing the recommendations by the Chancellor’s commission on governance to increase students’ contribution towards education from 20 to 40 per cent, the printer’s imp intervened to change the phrase ...”Except that doubling these costs was not a bald suggestion” to “Except that doubling these costs was not a bad suggestion” implying T he Gleaner’s endorsement of the proposal, which was not the case.

The error is regretted.