Too much junk food - 10,000 children with diabetes
Carl Gilchrist, Gleaner Writer
Junk food is having a deadly effect on Jamaica's children as approximately 10,000 of them under age 15 are said to be suffering from diabetes.
According to University of Technology president, Professor Errol Morrison, surveys by government and non-governmental organisations indicate this startling figure.
"If you'd asked me five years ago how many children there are with diabetes, I would tell you very few, maybe a couple hundreds," Morrison said to reporters attending the University Diabetes Outreach Programme (UDOP) at Sunset Jamaica Grande Resort in Ocho Rios.
"I am startled myself, I haven't done the survey, but I'm being told that the data coming in as a result of the government and the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) surveys is that we may be having nearly 10,000 children under 15 and what is contributing to this is interesting - lifestyle," he added.
According to Morrison, eating too much junk food and not exercising enough are the main reasons for the high rate of diabetes among this age group. Morrison is urging a proactive approach to stem the ballooning number of cases.
Morrison said: "Too much eating of ... what you call fast food or junk food, too little exercise. This lack of physical activity, this eating of these fast foods which are energy-dense, the contribution is overweight. Overweight is the single most important cause for the development or the aggravating of diabetes, and so we're seeing a serious problem.
It is escalating and we need to get to work proactively, and part and parcel of our outage here is to get the health team and educators and persons across the spectrum of Jamaican life to understand that we have a crisis on our hands and for them to help us to improve the quality of lifestyle, which can contain this pandemic."
Morrison was speaking against the background of what he said was the bleak outlook for Jamaica where diabetes is concerned.
"Jamaica is part of the Caribbean thrust where the overall worldwide prediction is, we should see a 55 per cent increase by the year 2030, compared to 1995. That means we're going to see possibly a move from one-in-five adults to about one-in-four to one-in-three adults over (age) 15," Morrison said.
Meanwhile, figures released by Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson, showed that more than 220,000 Jamaicans between 15 and 74 years old have diabetes. This translates to 13.6 per cent of the population.
The ministry data shows that, up to 2009, there were 92,860 men and 132,469 women, aged 25 years and over, who had diabetes.
Diabetes is the second leading cause of death for Jamaicans under 70 years old. It ranks as the leading cause of death for women in this age group and third for men.
Obesity affects 38 per cent of women and 12 per cent of men, according to 2008 statistics.
And while describing the figures as disturbing, Ferguson said diabetes is proving to be a burden on the health budget.
"The National Health Fund currently has 106,017 persons with diabetes on its card programme for last year. The agency paid $616,461,903 to beneficiaries for diabetes alone," Ferguson said as he addressed the conference.
More than 750 participants from CARICOM including Haiti, Suriname and Cuba, along with Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panama, The Netherlands Antilles, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and the African continent, gathered at the Sunset Jamaica Grande Resort for the recently held 18th Annual International Conference of Diabetes, under the theme 'New Frontiers in Diabetes Management'.
The focus this year, according to Morrison, is on how individuals manage diabetes, looking specifically at alternative/ complementary medicine.
The outcome is expected to be a better understanding between patients and doctors as it relates to these medicines.
Some 30 speakers participated. These included the Sir Alister McIntyre awardee, Professor Brian Berman of University of Maryland, and the Sir Philip Sherlock awardee, Dr Henry Lowe of the University of Technology. The event was staged jointly by UTech and the University of the West Indies.