The Bahamas and non-communicable diseases

The World Health Organization (WHO) has developed a standardized method for collecting, analyzing and disseminating data in WHO member countries commonly called STEPS. The approach recommends three steps — questionnaire, physical measurements and biochemical measurements.

By using the same standardized questions and protocols, all WHO members can use STEPS information not only for monitoring in-country trends, but also for making comparisons across countries and importantly for developing their own surveillance system to monitor and fight against non-communicable diseases (NCD).

Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands made public the results of the 2019 STEPS survey for The Bahamas, confirming what he and other health experts and policymakers have been telling us for some time now: unhealthy lifestyles are impacting our mental health, reducing our quality of physical wellbeing and sending us to early graves.

Such impacts are startling in a country with a population of less than 400,000; with a doctor-patient ratio of 2.24 physicians per 1,000 population; and a national per capita income which places us comfortably within the range of developed economies.

In short, the STEPS survey reveals that Bahamians are eating too much; they are consuming the wrong foods and drinks, they are overwhelmingly sedentary, they are engaging in unprotected sexual activity and they are abusing each other at unacceptable and inexcusable rates.

Positive change in each of these categories is within the control of every Bahamian.

Children being fed a daily diet of traditional high carbohydrate meals based on rice, grits, potato, macaroni and fried meats or fish topped with sugar and salt-laden fast-food snacks and overly sweet drinks grow into adult medical nightmares.

While government intervention is appropriate in identifying and publicizing the problem and in developing and implementing policies to promote positive alternatives, the government cannot dictate personal behaviors. Nor should the government, and by extension the Bahamian taxpayer, be burdened to meet the massive medical expenses that result from the litany of non-communicable diseases that are being perpetuated in the Bahamian population because of poor personal choices: high blood pressure, diabetes, coronary and kidney ailments and certain cancers amongst the most common.

It is urgent therefore that archaic social stereotypical behaviors be singled out as unacceptable once and for all.

There is no circumstance that makes physical abuse of a child – a beating that leaves bruises and or internal injury – an acceptable form of discipline. Similarly, serial verbal abuse demeaning self-esteem and destroying self-confidence in children must be called out and condemned in families, on playgrounds and in schoolyards.

All such abuse inflicts lifelong scars on the minds and bodies of young Bahamians that cause them to lose trust in those in authority with terrible consequences for social harmony in their adult lives.

Similarly, the continued high rate of sexual abuse of children horrendously stains our national character. It also must be called out; it must be condemned and it must be punished.

The oversexualization of young children, particularly young girls, is wrong and should not be encouraged or tolerated by parents, families, schools or social clubs.

There is no sensible reason for young girls to be outfitted in a scanty, provocative dress; to be taught sexually suggestive dance moves and to begin wearing make-up even before they reach their teen years.

It must be confusing when these same young girls are later criticized for being womanish in their behavior, rude for “whining-up” and “forward” for speaking as if they are adults.

And young boys must not be encouraged to hide their emotions, to fight and to swear to demonstrate their manliness. They similarly will be confused when they are subsequently called anti-social delinquents for displaying exactly those behaviors.

We can and we must have positive change in our communities. We can and we must become physically, mentally and socially healthier than we are today. To do so every individual must choose to begin by doing the right thing.

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