Childhood obesity rates double in five yearsTuesday, January 30, 2018
BY KIMBERLEY HIBBERT
CHILDHOOD obesity rates locally have doubled in the last five years leaving health professionals concerned about the future health of our children.
Dr Tamu Davidson, director of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and injuries prevention in the Ministry of Health (MOH), said with respect to obesity prevalence in children 13 to 15 years, the rates have doubled since the last survey in 2010.
“The recent report released by World Health Organization last year showed a doubling of obesity rates globally from 1990 to 2017, but within a short space of time we have seen this doubling. Our recent data show that in a short space of time — five years — we have seen a doubling of obesity rates in children between the ages of 13 and 15,” Dr Davidson said while addressing editors and reporters at the Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange yesterday to promote the Heart Foundation of Jamaica's observance of Heart Month, which begins on Thursday.
Dr Davidson further noted that the grave concerns regarding the doubling rates have to do with the implication for type II diabetes, among other diseases as a result of childhood obesity. What this does is set up children for non-communicable diseases and other issues early in life.
In 2010, the Global School-based Student Health Survey (GSSHS) in Jamaica reported that for the 13 to 15 age group, 18.1 per cent of boys and 25.2 per cent of girls are overweight, and 5.3 per cent of boys and 6.7 per cent of girls are obese.
The newly released 2017 GSSHS shows an alarming picture when compared to 2010, as obesity rates in boys have almost doubled from 5.3 per cent to 10.3 per cent, while obesity rates in girls have jumped from 6.7 per cent to 9.9 per cent.
Against this information, Dr Davidson said the most alarming issue was the increase over a very short period. She also pointed out that the health ministry, alongside academia and non-governmental organisation partners, have set a target to reduce the obesity rates by five per cent by 2025.
“In 2013 we had a Cabinet-approved plan for addressing non-communicable diseases, reducing premature mortality by 25 per cent by 2025. That included reducing the prevalence of obesity by five per cent over that five-year period. This was an ambitious target and it was aligned to the global target which we had agreed to in 2012, which is to halt the rise of obesity in Jamaica and all the countries around the world,” Dr Davidson said.
“This was with the aim to also reduce diabetes because, as we saw obesity rates increase, prevalence of diabetes increased, but obesity is not only linked to diabetes. There are other diseases such as hypertension, heart disease, and high cholesterol which can be caused by this condition. We are working with our partners such as Heart Foundation and others to really scale up our intervention to address this problem, and since last year the minister has been leading on this and introduced the National Food Industry Task force. We are also working with the Ministry of Education to scale up our school intervention to address childhood obesity.”
Dr Marilyn Lawrence Wright, consultant cardiologist at the Heart Foundation of Jamaica and the University Hospital of the West Indies, said, while highlighting the problem of obesity, it is important to note that the rates for overweight children are just as alarming.
“The percentages for overweight are 20 per cent in this 13 to 15 years age group, and certainly [being] overweight and obesity increase your cardiovascular risk. So, whereas we are highlighting obesity and the relevance of that, we would have to think of the overweight as well. Someone may not seem overweight, but if you actually check the numbers — the weight for the height — check it against what's expected for a child that age, up to 20 per cent of our 13-to 15-year-olds in 2010 were overweight,” she said.
Meanwhile, in relation to the cause of childhood obesity, Dr Davidson said obesogenic environments that our children live in with access to fast food, sweetened beverages, and reduced physical activity are main contributors.
Dr Davidson also said, while overweight, obesity and overnutrition pose problems, undernutrition in a pregnant woman can set up her unborn child for having issues with obesity later in life.
The Heart Foundation, in observing Heart Month in February under the theme, 'Healthy Nutrition, Know Your Labels', will embark on a number of public education initiatives aimed at influencing behaviour change among Jamaicans with relation to their consumption habits and heart health.
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