When it comes to the health of individuals, and by extension families, communities, nations and the whole world, international public health agencies like the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) deserve many accolades for their sterling service.
And if we, as individuals, were to pay a little more attention to, or heed the advice offered by these bodies, the quality of our lives would be tremendously improved.
Just Wednesday (yesterday), our attention was arrested by a news report that originated in Santiago, Chile, which informed that obesity in the Caribbean was on the increase.
In this instance, another group that’s integral to the survival of the world’s population — the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) — joined forces with PAHO in proclaiming that overweight and obesity are particularly prevalent among women and children in the Caribbean region.
According to PAHO, the increase in obesity has disproportionately impacted women due to the fact that, in more than 20 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, the rate of female obesity is 10 per centage points higher than that of men.
We can assume that the situation is past grave at this point, since for as long as we can remember, regional health officials have been expressing concern about childhood obesity, a situation that has significant negative implications for the health of individuals, and increased cost of health care.
Seemingly, we as a region have not been taking the warnings seriously, if we take into account that a very high percentage of obese children grow up to become obese adults.
According to the joint report, “close to 360 million people – about 58 per cent of the inhabitants of the region – are overweight, with the highest rates observed in the Bahamas (69 per cent), Mexico (64 per cent) and Chile (63 per cent).
“With the exception of Haiti (38.5 per cent), Paraguay (48.5 per cent) and Nicaragua (49.4 per cent), the report said obesity affects more than half the population of all countries in the region”.
And the alarm did not end there, as the news article added: “The report also noted obesity affects 140 million people – 23 per cent of the region’s population – and highest rates are to be found in the Caribbean countries of Barbados (36 per cent), and Trinidad and Tobago and Antigua and Barbuda at around 31 per cent”.
The sobering thought for us is that, on the basis of this report, out of the members and two associates that form the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), Antiguans and Barbudans may be at the top of the list where obese nationals are concerned.
We are all aware — or should be by now – of the direct link between obesity and non-communicable diseases like hypertension, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases that are among the leading causes of death in the Caribbean and further afield.
So, where and how do we begin to address this problem in order to safeguard the health and prolong the lives of residents? As with every other avenue of instruction necessary to shape the lives of individuals, we look toward the home where learning begins at the feet of parents, extended family members, and other caregivers.
The FAO/PAHO Panorama report pointed out that one of the main factors contributing to the rise of obesity and overweight is the change in dietary patterns.
Train up a child in the way he should go, the Good Book teaches, and when he is old, he will not depart from it. This advice takes into account the development of the whole person, but for our purpose, we advocate that adults should place priority on establishing sound nutritional practices in their charges beginning in their formative years.
They also need to lead by example. For instance, if parents show dislike for vegetables and water, of course the children will adopt the same aversion to these better options.
Look for creative snack and meal ideas by incorporating local fruits, juices, lean meats, and grains, instead of remaining committed to emptying the supermarket shelves of artificially prepared and chemical-laced chips, sweets and drinks every weekend.
Another equally important part of this equation that residents ought to make a part of their daily regimen is exercise, fresh air and sunlight.
We are all quite familiar with the cliché that “a healthy nation is a wealthy nation”, therefore PAHO’s solution to address the problem is to encourage our leaders to take the bull by the horns, otherwise they would be presiding over some very unhealthy citizens.
“The alarming rates of overweight and obesity in Latin America and the Caribbean should act as a wake-up call to governments in the region to introduce policies that address all forms of hunger and malnutrition by linking food security, sustainability, agriculture, nutrition and health.”
At the same time, each of us ought to be mindful of the fact that we ought to make wise choices and decisions health wise, because “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.
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