JAMAICANS are being urged to make healthier food and lifestyle choices to stave off or control chronic illnesses such as diabetes.
This call comes from medical epidemiologist with the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Dr Julia Rowe Porter, who stressed that "as a country we need to evolve and take our health a little more seriously and…we need to open our eyes and see how can make changes".
Speaking at the Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange held to discuss the observance of Diabetes Awareness Month in November, Dr Rowe Porter warned that diets high in simple carbohydrates, processed foods and those with a high glycemic index are "burning out your pancreas". The pancreas contains glands that release substances to help with digestion and control blood sugar.
"[Consuming] high calorie foods, packaged, processed foods that have a high glycemic index, instead of those foods that take long to prepare, like your ground provisions, are causing a challenge. They are burning out your pancreas," she warned, adding that individuals put stress on their metabolic system when they have high starches, processed foods with low fibre on a regular basis.
"Those things cause your insulin levels... to have to try to catch up with your glucose levels. So you push out more insulin to control your glucose levels if your glucose intake is high…especially if those starches are unhealthy... Every Jamaican, every child, every man, every woman, needs to be eating healthy to decrease their risk of getting diabetes and to control their diabetes if they have it."
Further, Dr Rowe Porter said, contrary to belief, there is no diabetic diet and how people with diabetes should eat, "is really how all of us are supposed to eat".
"We are all supposed to be eating healthy. So culturally, we need to shift in terms of appreciating what a healthy meal ought to look like," she said.
Rowe Porter noted as well that persons should seek to maintain a healthy weight, even though overall wellness and health is the objective.
"The weight is sometimes used as a marker to say that you are going in the right direction, but the physical activity and the healthy eating are really what we ought to be focusing on, because we not there with those two, it is manifested as overweight and obesity," she said.
Being overweight is one of the risk factors for type 2 Diabetes which is the most common in the general population and among children in Jamaica.
According to the 2016/2017 Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey, 54 per cent of Jamaicans are overweight and obese while more than 70 per cent have insufficient resources to access safe, adequate, and nutritious food; and four out of five or 82 per cent report low levels of physical activity.
The statistics also show that 12 per cent of Jamaicans 15 years and older are living with diabetes — a prevalence which increases with age.
Diabetes is the second-leading cause of death in Jamaica and is the top ranked cause of death for women and the third for men.