$77b bill

MAJ says obesity costs could hit Ja hard over next 15 years

BY KIMBERLEY HIBBERT
Observer staff reporter
hibbertk@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

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JAMAICA could save billions of dollars in health expenditure if the country is able to control obesity rates, officials of the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ) revealed yesterday.

“If we can control obesity, according to the National Food Industry Task Force, over the next 15 years we are able to save $77 billion,” Dr Clive Lai, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist and president of the MAJ, told reporters and editors at the Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange.

The MAJ team, which also included Dr Suzanne Minott-Arscott, private family medical doctor and honorary secretary; Dr Sandra Knight, anti-ageing physician and honorary treasurer; and Dr Ann Jackson-Gibson, consultant anaesthetist and assistant honorary secretary, appeared at the Monday Exchange in advance of the association's annual symposium scheduled for June 7-10 at the Jamaica Pegasus hotel in Kingston at which obesity will be the major focus.

Currently, the Government's annual expenditure to treat non-communicable diseases, which are subsets of obesity, is US$170 million and, due to the free user-fee policy within the public health care system, this cost may increase if obesity levels are not controlled.

“Anything related to obesity and its subsets could be a heart attack, hospitalisation, surgery. Those are all costs. It could just be medication; you fill part, but the National Health Fund picks up a huge part as well. To do investigations on the patient is a cost,” Dr Lai explained.

Dr Knight added that expenditure also arises from complications associated with obesity.

“This is one of the things that costs the public health sector the most, and I assume private also. If you get a stroke, for example, rehabilitation from that may take years [and] it's not just having that intervention in the hospital that's going to cost the Government. It's the prolonged treatment, therapy and rehabilitation that have to continue. If we can prevent a lot of that, the Government would be saving that money,” she explained, adding that the money saved could be invested in areas that give people options to prevent obesity-related illnesses.

Locally, 60 per cent of adults are overweight or obese and 67 per cent of deaths in Jamaica are linked to obesity.

The numbers in children are not far behind. According to Dr Lai, the rate of obesity among boys has moved from 5.3 per cent to 10.3 per cent, while the overweight and/or obese rate for girls has moved from 6.6 per cent to 9.9 per cent.

“Almost one in 10 children are overweight or obese. This is a problem, as you know obesity has serious consequences,” Dr Lai said.

These figures have led to Jamaica ranking 39 out of 195 countries in the world on the obesity index.

When the figures are separated by gender, women rank number seven, coming in behind Caribbean neighbours The Bahamas, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua, and St Kitts and Nevis.

But Dr Lai said the MAJ, being one of the local health watchdogs, hopes to use this medical symposium, being held under the theme 'Obesity: Do we even have a slim chance?' to start a cycle of behaviour change in the population.

“Obesity is very topical and we would like to inform the nation, teach them all about obesity and what we can do to prevent it. It affects the whole world.

“Over the last 40 years the obesity rates have tripled. In adults, 39 per cent of the world's population are either overweight or obese; the children between five years and 19 years, 18 per cent of them are overweight or obese,” Dr Lai said.

Further, the MAJ is appealing to individuals to pay attention to their weight and body mass index (BMI).

“Your BMI helps us to evaluate your health risks. A BMI of 20 to 25 means you're within the right weight range. If we reach 26 to 29, you're overweight. A BMI greater than 30 is considered obese and a BMI over 40 is morbidly obese. To calculate, divide your weight in kilograms by your height in metres squared,“ Dr Lai said.

Dr Minott-Arscott appealed for attention to be given to diets.

“People need to translate their weight into their daily diets, and we need to awaken people's acceptance of their role of managing their health care. Sugar converts to fat, not just sugar in your drinks, but in everything. We need to know what labels mean and understand it at the very basic level in primary schools. Sugar is not the only culprit either. The other culprit is salt. There are many players in the conversation that need to be addressed, that's why the conference takes us three days,” Dr Minott-Arscott said.

The symposium is open to the public, medical doctors, nurses, residents, allied health professionals, as well as medical and nursing students.

Some of the topics include obesity challenges; ethical issues in dealing with the obese patient; how body shaming can perpetuate the cycle of obesity; childhood obesity; female health and obesity; economics and food policy; lifestyle challenges; and surgical perspectives.

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