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Letter of the Day | Collaborative action to fight obesity pandemic

Published:Monday | March 4, 2024 | 12:05 AM


More than 800 million people in the world are currently living with obesity, and it is estimated that the numbers will reach 1.9 billion by 2035. World Obesity Day, observed annually on March 4, is set aside to raise awareness, promote advocacy, enhance policies and facilitate the sharing of experiences in the field of obesity. In most cases, obesity is a multifactorial disease due to psychosocial factors and genetic variants. Obesity is an expensive health issue to treat and manage. Alarmingly, the global costs of overweight and obesity are predicted to reach US$3 trillion per year by 2030, and more than US$18 trillion by 2060.

According to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), the Caribbean has some of the highest rates of overweight and obesity in the Americas among adults, ranging from 18.9 per cent in Antigua and Barbuda to 31.6 per cent in The Bahamas. Alarmingly, overweight and obesity prevalence levels in children age 5-9 years in CARICOM countries are increasing – highest in The Bahamas at 39.5 per cent and lowest in Saint Lucia at 26.1 per cent. Disturbingly, the prevalence of obesity in Caribbean children is two to three times higher than the global level. Jamaica’s obesity rate is very disconcerting. The World Obesity Federation (WOF) says that Jamaica is a high-risk country for childhood obesity. The WOF states that the excessive consumption of sugary snacks and beverages has been identified as a major contributing factor to this disturbing fact.

Eating a healthy diet is not about strict limitations nor depriving yourself of the foods you love. Rather, it is about feeling great, having more energy, improving your health and mental state. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that an eating plan that helps promote health and manage one’s weight includes a variety of healthy foods. Eating should be a fun activity; dark leafy greens, oranges, tomatoes, and even fresh herbs, are loaded with vitamins, fibre, and minerals and should be part of our eating plan. Some initiatives spearheaded by CARPHA to combat childhood obesity include the Six-Point Policy Package.

CARPHA’s Six-Point Policy Package was instituted in 2017 to promote healthier food environments and food security to address childhood obesity through joint policy action. This framework includes policy recommendations to address: (1) food labelling; (2) nutrition standards and guidelines for schools and other institutions; (3) food marketing; (4) nutritional quality of food supply; (5) trade and fiscal policies; and (6) food chain incentives. Undoubtedly, the fight to tackle global obesity will require a multisectoral approach involving both public and private sectors and non-governmental organisations.

It is imperative that governments incorporate the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, especially goal No. 3 that addresses good health and well-being in their campaign to tackle obesity. This campaign will require collaborative action in order to correct the misconceptions around obesity, as well as to implement far-reaching solutions.