Health

Obesity fight: Marathon not a sprint

BY CHERRIES WILES
Observer writer
editorial@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, June 10, 2018

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“Pork is red meat, people!”

That was the message from Professor Alafia Samuels, director, George Alleyne Chronic Disease Research Centre at The University of the West Indies in Barbados, as she warned those in attendance at the opening ceremony for the Medical Association of Jamaica's 2018 Symposium Jamaica Pegasus hotel on Thursday about allowing themselves to be misled.

“This white meat thing is marketing,” she insisted. “Pork is the other white meat? No! Chicken and fish are white meat, pork is not.”

Samuels was the guest speaker at the event which kicked off the three-day symposium being held under the theme 'Obesity: Do we even have a slim chance?'. Today is the final day of the symposium.

In her public lecture, the professor said pork was among other animal products, such as butter and cheese, which increase the mortality rate.

She went on to advise the audience to be aware of the types of fats they put into their bodies, adding that “the worst” thing is trans-fat.

“One of the ways that we get trans-fat is when they deep-fry french fries and they keep dipping the fries. That's trans-fat,“ she explained. “They are generating trans-fat by ultra-heating the oil.”

In the meantime, in keeping with the theme of the symposium, Samuels pointed out that Jamaica ranks in the top 14 most obese countries in the world where females 15 years and older are concerned, with an obesity rate of 53 per cent.

“One of the interesting things about obesity you will notice is that most of these obese countries are small-island developing states,” Samuels said. “This is not a coincidence. Small-island developing states, whether they are middle, - low, - or high income, suffer from multiple vulnerabilities. Climate change is one, but the other is what we would call lack of food sovereignty, — this is the amount of control we have over the types of food that the population eats,” she said.

Samuels explained that small-island developing states often have little to no control over the goods importers bring into the country, because of global free trade policy under the World Trade Organization.

“In small-island developing states, what you find happening is that you get the ultra-processed foods because they have a long shelf life. Plus, our size means that based on economies of scale, we cannot produce the variety of food we need at the right price. — So we get foods imported into the island at cheaper than production costs,” she added.

This increase in the consumption of ultra-processed foods, Samuels said, is strongly correlated to the increase in obesity rates among Jamaicans, even in children.

The Global School-based Student Health Survey in Jamaica revealed that obesity rates among boys and girls, ages 13 to 15, between 2010 to 2017, increased tremendously. In 2010, 5.3 per cent of boys and 6.7 per cent of girls were obese. Fast-forward to 2017 and the figures increased to 10.3 and 9.9 per cent, respectively.

“Our grandparents used to eat off the farm. Then our parents used to go to the markets. We go to the supermarkets. And our children go to fast-food [restaurants]. In a few generations we have seen what we call nutrition transition, where we just do not eat the way we used to eat before,” Samuels highlighted.

Samuels emphasised though, that in the same way the obesity rates did not increase overnight, Jamaicans should not expect a solution tomorrow.

“This is a trend that is going back to the 70s,” she said, adding that the fight against obesity should be seen as a marathon, not a sprint. “We are going to have to do some real bold things... in order to turn that curve back down, because we are on an upward trajectory and things are not looking good,” she added.

Samuels ended her presentation by giving the audience tips on how to control weight gain, which included exercising, lessening the amount of sugar used in tea and coffee, and not overindulging in food high in saturated and trans-fat.

She also advised the audience to replace soda and sugar-sweetened beverages with water and coconut water.

In the meantime, Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton, who officially declared the symposium open, hailed the initiative in an interview with the Jamaica Observer.

“I think it captures the theme of current discussion around the obesity issue relating to non-communicable diseases and the threat they represent for our population, not just in Jamaica, but in the Caribbean and indeed the world.

“The more we ventilate these issues, the more we speak about the issue, is the better off we are in dealing with it. The symposium reinforces and validates what we are trying to do in Government,” he said.

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