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Letter of the day: Childhood-obesity crisis

Published:Tuesday | August 25, 2015 | 12:00 AM


Cardiovascular disease is the number-one killer in Jamaica. We have heard that time and time again, but do we get, it and what is being done to properly educate the population. Most important, are we effective with our multisectoral partnership with schools, parents and private and public sector?

These are all-important factors to think about if we really want to combat non-communicable lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

In the past few years, we have seen a rise in childhood obesity, and we must be concerned because our health-care system will crumble.

Even more frightening, childhood diabetes in Jamaica is on the rise. Studies have shown that it is more prevalent in urban areas. Levels of inactivity and eating habits have changed drastically as our family lives have become hectic and fast-paced.

Obese children have a higher rate of type 2 diabetes and the likelihood to develop certain cancers later in life. Our girls tend to be more obese than boys, placing them at greater risk for cardiovascular disease and early death.

Our Jamaican diet mainly consists of starchy carbohydrates, sugars and saturated fats - not to mention our portions at mealtime. When you visit a lunch shop, a plate may have rice with potato salad or macaroni, fried chicken with curry gravy, and little or no leafy green vegetables.

This is an unhealthy diet if consumed consistently over time. A healthier option would be one starch, a healthy serving of vegetables and lean protein.

Schools must make efforts to have gardens to provide their own vegetables at lunchtime. A diet high in fibre, lean protein, vegetables, fruits and nuts is recommended. More water should be consumed to replace sugary drinks.


Not enough EXERCISE


Our children, especially in the urban areas, do not get enough exercise. Physical education is once per week in schools, and our children have become more sedentary with a phone in hand. An active lifestyle can reduce obesity and non-communicable diseases. Parents need to make sure their children are active in sports and play.

I implore parents to pack healthier snacks for their children instead of the sugary, empty-calorie ones I see in many trolleys. Our local fruits are always great replacements for an unhealthy snack.

Reducing childhood obesity should be a public-health priority. This would reduce the heavy burden on our health-care cost due to hospital visits, medication and additional workforce. The State must also improve access to health care, and the resources must be used efficiently and equitably.

We have seen some companies in Jamaica making that move to low sodium, low sugar and low fats in their foods, but we are a long way off, especially with the informal food and drink companies. Nutritional facts on packaged drinks and foods should be mandated.


Caretaker, West Rural St Andrew