A grim national health prognosis

Although we knew the collective health of the nation was poor as evidenced in having one of the worst rates of chronic noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) in the world, we can now see the scope of the latest data – and it is frightening.

The 2019 survey cycle of STEPS in The Bahamas was carried out from January 2019 to April 2019 across New Providence, Grand Bahama, Exuma, Abaco, North Eleuthera, Cat Island, and Inagua.

What the findings reveal is, “The Bahamas now exceeds the regional prevalence (Region of the Americas) for overweight and obesity prevalence (71.1 percent versus 62.4 percent), and hypertension prevalence (38.2 percent versus 18 percent). The national prevalence of diabetes is 11.5 percent, but an additional 6.8 percent are pre-diabetic.”

The report noted 85.3 percent of the population does not meet the minimum daily intake/consumption of fruits and vegetables.

“There are high rates of fried food consumption, with more than 50 percent of the population eating fried foods up to three times each week, and another 13 percent eating four or more days each week,” the report noted.

“There is a three-times higher frequency in the daily consumption of fried foods for males compared to females. The consumption of free (added) sugars is alarming, with 60 percent of the population drinking at least two cans/bottles of a sugary beverage each day.

“This is compounded by the practice of adding sugar to tea and/or coffee. Specifically, 53 percent of the population add between two to three spoonfuls of sugar; and on average, Bahamians consume double the daily recommended amount of salt.”

Poor diet, the report noted, is paving the pathway to those who are underweight, overweight and obese, as well as to NCDs like hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.

These factors all lead to increased risk of heart attack, cancer and stroke.

This is being exacerbated by increasing tobacco consumption.

“Although tobacco use trends are decreasing in 150 countries around the globe,” the report noted, “in The Bahamas, tobacco use is an increasing trend – rising by 145 percent over the almost 20-year period from 2000 (7.1 percent) to 2019 (17.4 percent). This current tobacco smoking prevalence also exceeds the regional average of 16.8 percent.”

“Seventy-one percent of respondents report having never smoked tobacco or tobacco products. Yet, an increasing number of persons are being exposed to secondhand smoke.

“In The Bahamas, secondhand smoke exposure, between 2012 and 2019, increased from 7.7 percent to 12.1 percent in homes; and from 11.3 percent to 17.4 percent in workplaces.”

On top of that, alcohol consumption, another factor for increased risk of death from NCDs, is on the rise.

“Those who have ever consumed alcohol (65.6 percent) are more than double those who are life abstainers (29.3percent),” the study found.

“Almost half (49.5 percent) of those who have consumed alcohol classify as current alcohol drinkers. This represents an 8.8 percent point increase from the STEPS 2012 findings for current alcohol drinkers.”

The report outlined that “current drinkers” drink a maximum of four standard drinks on each occasion they consumed alcohol and Hurricane Dorian and the pandemic might have made it worse.

Another major risk factor, lack of sufficient physical activity, was not as bad as the other categories, with 70 percent of those surveyed reporting they were sufficiently active.

“Taking all risk factors together, the image emerging is that a healthy Bahamas remains a conceptual ideal with only 0.7 percent having no NCD risk factors,” the report read.

Sadly, women ages 45-69 were found to be the most at risk, despite women in The Bahamas having a longer life expectancy than men.

This is the reverse of what the same study found in many other countries.

We are in a bad way.

There are many policy prescriptions that can be applied to reverse course.

Improving public health education and awareness and strengthening healthcare systems are two large ticket items that Minister of Health and Wellness Dr. Michael Darville said are en train de.

Implementing policies to support healthy lifestyles such as taxes on sugary drinks, restrictions on the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages, and smoke-free public spaces is also needed.

The dangers of alcohol should be taught and moderation more heavily encouraged.

Promoting physical activity from a grade school level through retirement must also be a thrust of the government.

Policymakers can also focus on improving food security and access to nutritious food.

However, there is nothing the government can do to force someone to take their health seriously.

Personal responsibility will ultimately be the determining factor.

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