As World Obesity Day was marked on Thursday, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) lamented that the Caribbean has some of the highest overweight and obesity rates in the Americas.
It expressed particular concern that the prevalence of obesity in Caribbean children is two to three times higher than the world.
Noting that obesity is no longer only a problem in developed countries, CARPHA noted that the rates for adults ranged from 18.9 percent in Antigua and Barbuda to 31.6 percent in the Bahamas.
Alarmingly, it added, overweight and obesity prevalence levels in children aged 5-9 years in Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries are increasing, and highest in the Bahamas at 39.5 per cent and lowest in St. Lucia at 26.1 percent.
“With the obesity epidemic 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,” CARPHA said.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the vulnerability of persons with obesity, and other NCDs. It is not yet clear why there is a link between COVID-19 and obesity; however, increased susceptibility to respiratory problems, inflammation, and immunological disturbances in people living with obesity may all be contributing factors. Obesity also has a number of NCD co-morbidities such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease which have also been shown to increase risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes.”
CARPHA urged Caribbean countries to recommit efforts to fighting childhood obesity by developing, implementing or enforcing policies aimed at facilitating the consumption of healthy diets and increasing physical activity, such as, clear and simple front of packaging labelling; combatting social stigma associated with obesity; and ensuring access to care for persons who want help to maintain a healthy weight.
It added that individuals can do their part by becoming more physically active by moving more and reducing the consumption of salt, fats and sugar and increasing the consumption of fruits and vegetables.
Obesity is caused by a combination of genetic, environmental factors and behavioural factors, such as physical inactivity and an unhealthy diet. However, CARPHA noted, the obesogenic environment, which is usually driven by factors outside of the individual’s control, makes the healthy choice the difficult choice to take. Persons with obesity also face stigma and discrimination due to their weight that can lead to poor emotional well-being and low self-esteem.
World Obesity Day was observed this year under the theme, ‘Every Body, Needs Everybody’.
Realizing that a whole of society approach is necessary to reduce the burden of obesity and diet-related NCDs, CARPHA said it continues to support its member states and collaborate with regional and international organizations in an effort to minimize the impact of obesity in the Caribbean region.
Some initiatives spearheaded by the agency to combat childhood obesity include the Six-Point Policy Package which sets out priority areas for action on mandatory food labelling, nutritional standards and guidelines for schools, and reduction in the marketing of unhealthy foods.
CARPHA, in collaboration with Ministries of Health and Education in Grenada and St Lucia, also implemented an intervention in schools to promote healthy environments and diets to prevent obesity and diabetes. ‘Reversing the Rise in Childhood Obesity’ was funded by the World Diabetes Foundation. As part of the project, a recipe book Kids Can Cook Too was developed to support the sustained healthy eating behaviours of children.