Monday, Aug 19, 2019

Fat land

We are all aware of the crime crisis the country faced the last 10 to 15 years. Killings, mostly in New Providence, drove the murder count to record levels.

The killings were accompanied by scores of stabbings, choppings and bashings, making Prince Margaret Hospital’s Accident and Emergency section look like a war field hospital at times.

What’s less discussed, but is also at a crisis level, is our size.

You don’t need to consult statistics to see the problem. Driving along the streets, at work, at parties, at carnival, at clubs, it’s right in front of you. We are a fat people – a fat people who have normalized obesity.

Young women have no problem, at 310 pounds, going out to a bar in a sexy outfit that leaves their hanging guts exposed. Young men are proud to ask for 4XL-sized shirts to cover their excess heft when shopping at clothes stores.

The language has evolved to include euphemisms to describe obesity as something more benign than it is. “She’s solid.” “He’s heavy-set.” “She’s a big girl.” “He’s a thick fella.”

Rather than acknowledge the dangers of our poor eating and drinking habits, we prefer delusion, thinking there is nothing wrong with looking like a glutton.

The reality is simple: Bahamians are eating themselves to chronic illnesses and early graves. There have been numerous public warnings of this. Yet, we keep eating and getting bigger. The warnings fall on deaf ears.

It’s popular these days to blame the government for every problem, and to demand it fixes these problems right away.

For this situation to improve, the people have to be willing to change their habits. Bahamians must take responsibility for what they have done and continue to do to their bodies through poor diet, inactivity and a national addiction to refined sugar, saturated fats, starch and processed foods.

The numbers

The Bahamas was ranked the sixth most obese country in the world based on 2014 statistics from the World Health Organization. The World Population Review data released in March describe us as the most obese country in the Caribbean.

Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands laid out sobering statistics on our health situation in the House of Assembly on April 11, 2018 – data he presented numerous times to the public. Along with being near the top of the obesity rankings, The Bahamas has the worst non-communicable diseases profile in the Americas (conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes); and, we have an incidence of diabetes and hypertension so severe that our age-adjusted death rate in 2014 ranked The Bahamas seventh in the world in deaths from hypertension.

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) study “Associated Factors of Healthy Lifestyle in The Bahamas” from January 2018 examined our health problem in an expansive analysis.

According to the report, being overweight and obese was on the rise among all age groups. Additionally, the prevalence of raised blood glucose was 13 percent and that of high blood pressure, 31 percent. Chronic non-communicable diseases were responsible for 45 percent of deaths in the country.

Our women are particularly struggling with their weight.

Citing data from the Global Nutrition Report, 2014, the IDB report noted: “The prevalence of overweight and obesity is high in all age groups: 13 percent of school children; 45 percent and 21 percent of adolescents; 72 percent and 43 percent of women; and 66 percent and 27 percent of men, respectively.”

Being obese should not be considered sexy or acceptable. Obesity has deleterious effects on health, contributing to the problems we have with chronic diseases.

The government is collecting new data to assess where we are in this crisis.

Sands said last week, rising obesity numbers are the reason why they launched their STEPS survey, which records chronic disease risk factors in The Bahamas.

“We have completed the fieldwork and now we are in the process of assessing the data,” he said.

Based on what’s visible in our communities, it’s hard to assume things have gotten better.

The diet and the lifestyle

For far too many Bahamians, a day of eating goes like this. Breakfast: corned beef and grits with margarine or butter washed down with a sugary drink that purports to be juice.

Lunch: Deep-fried chicken, French fries drenched in ketchup (which is sugar) and a roll, washed down with another sugary drink.

Dinner: Steamed pork chop (fat left on the meat), white rice, potato salad, macaroni and a sugary drink.

Our diet is high in saturated fats, salt, sugar and starch.

We do not eat enough fruits and vegetables. We eat too much fatty, processed and scrap meats. Some of the processed meat we consider staples includes preservatives linked to bowel cancer.

Being fat results from excessive input and inadequate output.

Beyond walking to the car to and from work, the lifestyle of the modern-day Bahamian is quite sedentary.

Those who work in offices at computers sit for nearly eight hours of each working day.

There is little to no activity to burn off the conch snack for lunch on Monday. Or the thigh snack for lunch on Tuesday. Or the double cheeseburger and fries on Wednesday. Or the meatloaf, macaroni and potato salad on Thursday. Or the BBQ ribs, peas and rice and potato salad on Friday.

We eat. We sit. We grow.

The people must want different

The government advertises about healthy living. Sands talks about it all the time. This administration altered the breadbasket list to add price controls to healthier foods.

Could the government do more? Sure.

It could add taxes to clearly unhealthy foods and drinks; it could expand its healthy eating public relations campaign; it could be more aggressive regulating what vendors sell to children at schools, making sure there are mostly healthy options that teach good habits; it could expand public school curriculum related to proper diet and exercise.

But we the Bahamian people, we who sit and fill our faces day after day with food we know is not good for us, cannot blame the government or any political party for the state of our large and growing bodies.

For there to be change there has to be a desire by the overweight and obese to do better. Simple changes would go a long way.

Eat more fruits and vegetables. Eat less processed food. Eat leaner cuts of meat. Eat fewer sweets. Reduce red meat intake. Drink water instead of sugary drinks. Eat less starch. And, exercise.

In order to stay in shape it is also necessary to find some form of physical activity you enjoy. It could be swimming, walking, playing basketball, going to the gym, jogging, cycling, tennis.

Do something that gets you moving, and moving regularly.

The information is out there as to what is good to eat and drink, and what to avoid. Our problem as a people is not lack of knowledge. We lack discipline and pride. We want to eat whatever and don’t care how slovenly we look as a result.

There is a cost to this lack of discipline and pride, however: Your life will be shorter, and during the time you have you’ll be much sicker.

Look in the mirror unclothed. Are you happy with what you see? Get your blood analyzed. Are you happy with the results?

If not, change your habits. Commitment to healthier living would make you happier, you’d look better and you’d be more likely to live longer with fewer aches, pains and diseases.

Brent Dean

Editor at The Nassau Guardian
Brent is the General Manager of The Nassau Guardian.

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