Since her son was a few months old, Mary Johnson, 38, has loved his “kissable and chubby cheeks”.
However, nowadays, Johnson doesn’t quite appreciate them as much.
Johnson, whose name has been changed to protect her son’s identity, said he is now overweight and acknowledges that her bad habits have contributed to his current condition.
At nine-years-old, Johnson’s son weighs about 97 pounds.
He is not alone.
Bahamians have struggled with obesity for decades, and according to the World Obesity Atlas 2023 report released earlier this year, the situation is projected to worsen considerably in the next 10 years.
The annual increase in child obesity in The Bahamas between 2020 and 2035 is projected at 2.8 percent, which is regarded to be high, according to the report published by a London-based group, World Obesity Federation.
Nearly 35 percent of the nation’s boys are projected to be obese by 2035 and 30 percent of girls.
September is recognized globally as National Childhood Obesity Month.
Johnson, a single mother, admitted that her son loves fast food, especially pizza. Additionally, she said she has cooked a lot of “heavy meals” over the years.
“I love macaroni, peas n’ rice, fried chicken, ribs, coleslaw – the average Bahamian diet.”
She said the weight gain started when her son was a baby. She said everyone loved to squeeze his chubby cheeks and chunky thighs.
“I would give him his bottle, and if he cried, I would give him another one. He got so sweet and chunky.
“When he started to grow, he didn’t shed the baby weight as most boys do. He has a big belly, chunky thighs, fat cheeks. They’re all still there.
“When he asked for extra nuggets or fries we would just give it to him. He got accustomed to eating more than he needed to. I didn’t intend for this to happen. I beat myself up for not stopping it sooner.
“He is bigger than he should be. I realize that we started this.”
She said she helped him to maintain his less than ideal diet. As a result, she said he craves his fast food treats and pushes his vegetables around in his plate.
“I know things have to change,” she said.
“Part of it can be genetics, but I definitely accept my part in this as well. It’s crazy how things can get out of control sometimes. That’s why I’m working so hard to change things now. I saw a story about childhood obesity the other day and it hit me hard.
“So, we’re trying to get him involved in more activities.
“He just started learning how to swim. We don’t buy fast food at all anymore. We don’t want him to become an obese teen or adult. We have to make the changes now.
“He doesn’t like it, but he knows how I feel and I spoke to him about it. My mom spoke to him, his uncles did as well.
“Bahamians in general eat an unhealthy diet. I’m taking responsibility for my household.”
A body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more is considered obese, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The Atlas report “emphasizes the importance of developing comprehensive national action plans to prevent and treat obesity and support people affected by the disease,” a press release noted.
“It also acknowledges the impact of climate change, COVID-19 restrictions, new pandemics, and chemical pollutants on overweight and obesity and warns that without ambitious and coordinated action to address systemic issues, obesity rates could rise still further.”
According to volume one of the Bahamas STEPS 2019 report, which was released in March, based on the body mass index, the survey found that 23.8 percent of participants had normal weight, 25.4 percent were classified as overweight and 43.4 percent were classified as being obese with a BMI of over 40.
The Atlas report estimates that by 2035, 49 percent of Bahamians will suffer from obesity. This percentage is considered to be very high.
The report calls for urgent action across the globe to counter rising obesity numbers.
“We now need to increase efforts to prevent, manage and treat obesity throughout the life course,” the report says.
“Action must be decisive, people-centered and integrated in order to increase our chances of successfully preventing and treating obesity.
“While preventing and treating obesity requires financial investment, the cost of failing to prevent and treat obesity will be far higher. The estimates presented in this Atlas suggest that, on current trends, overweight and obesity will cost the global economy over US$4 trillion of potential income in 2035, nearly 3 percent of current global gross domestic product (GDP).
“The estimates for the continuing increase in obesity prevalence are based on published trends from 1975 to 2016.
“The period from 2020 to 2022 was marked by extensive restrictions or ‘lockdowns’ in many countries that appear to have increased risk of weight gain by curtailing movements outside the home, exacerbating dietary and sedentary behaviors linked to weight gain, and significantly reducing access to care. In addition, many national surveys and measurement programs, which monitor weight and weight gain were halted.
“A rise in obesity prevalence, which appears to have occurred especially among children, may prove hard to reverse, and suggests that a side-effect of managing the COVID-19 pandemic is a worsening of the obesity epidemic.”