Disclaimer: This article attempts to give a simplified explanation of some medical problems that are often quite complex. Many important considerations have deliberately been omitted.

In medical terms, at least two ‘degrees’ of being too heavy are recognised: overweight and obese. Although these terms have specific scientific criteria for diagnosis, these correspond, in layman’s terms, to being slightly heavy, or being way too heavy. Overweight is bad, and obesity is worse.

For example, the results of the (Barbados) Health of the Nation Study (HotN), an island-wide study involving 1,234 individuals aged 25 years and over, and released here in 2015 by the Ministry of Health and the George Alleyne Chronic Disease Research Centre (GACDRC), gave us some idea of how many adult Barbadians were too heavy. This study found that about 33 per cent of those studied were overweight, with another 33 per cent being obese.

These persons are often described in terms such as big man, ‘fat lady, pleasantly plump, focusing on the physical appearance. Unfortunately, political correctness apart, there are many more issues associated with these heavy persons.

The younger generations are not exempt. In 2012, the WHO/UNICEF noted that the percentage of children in Barbados under the age of five years that was ‘too heavy’ was 12.2 per cent. The 2012 WHO Global School Health Survey, a population-based survey of 26 schools in Barbados, showed the prevalence of overweight and obesity was 31.5 percent and 14.4 per cent, respectively.

Imagine, for example, at birth a person’s genes predetermine that, by adulthood, that individual should be about 150 lbs. However, while growing up, that individual does not run about and play games, but sits all day long in front of a screen, whether it is an iPad, a computer screen, a video game or even just a smartphone. This young person does not eat fruit and vegetables, but instead grows up on a diet of hamburgers, chicken and chips, pizza and hot dogs. So, instead of the 150-pound adult that was expected at birth, this person becomes a 225-pound adult.

At birth, the heart was planning to be strong enough to serve a 150-pound adult. Having to serve 225 lbs, 24/7/365 (remember that the heart never gets any rest, not even when you are resting), puts an extra strain on the heart. Medically, we have a growing number of young people with ‘stressed-out hearts’. When the heart is over-stressed, heart attacks and heart failure can result. These conditions are at the top of the lists of the leading causes of sickness and death in Barbados, and our sister Caribbean countries.

Because that individual chooses to sample much of the salty and greasy foods that the fast-food outlets serve up, that individual is likely to develop hypertension and high cholesterol problems. These not only put further stress on the heart but also contribute to strokes, kidney disease, dementia and some circulatory problems, including peripheral arterial disease (PAD).

The pancreas, an organ in the body that is intimately involved in processing foods, has to deal with diets that include sugar-sweetened beverages (“too sweet”), and are also too salty, and in many cases are just too much (‘some people eat like they born hungry’). This causes the pancreas (like the heart above) to overwork. Over time, the pancreas becomes exhausted, and when the pancreas can no longer cope, the disease diabetes mellitus type 2 develops (‘diabetes’). The HotN found that 18 percent of adults in Barbados over 25 years had diabetes. This is the highest figure in Latin America and the Caribbean for this age group. Over time, diabetes often leads to blindness, strokes, heart attacks, chronic kidney disease, amputations and death.

The list of chronic non-communicable diseases (cncds) includes diseases like hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart diseases, strokes, dementia, kidney disease and circulatory problems. All are linked and often ‘being too heavy’ is the trigger or starting point. And while these diseases fill our hospital wards, our Accident and Emergency Department and even our morgues, they also stress our national finances by requiring tens of millions of dollars each year to treat. And, if we are ‘not in a good place’ right now, our current trajectory shows that things are going from very bad to even worse.

Like volcanoes, many of these conditions lie quietly in the background, often unrecognized by the affected individual, until there is a sudden eruption. A visit for an annual health examination (‘check-up’) is strongly recommended for all persons, and may allow for a timely intervention, otherwise these ‘silent killers’ may suddenly erupt and cause a severe or fatal illness like a heart attack or stroke.

One ray of hope is the Barbados Childhood Obesity Prevention Programme, as Barbados is one of a few Caribbean countries that has started such a programme in the last few years with the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Barbados (HSFB) Inc. being the local agency charged with conducting this advocacy programme, with the support of a strong coalition, comprising like-minded individuals, groups and organizations.

All available national statistics show we are in a bad place, as large numbers of our adults, and a growing number of our kids, are ‘too heavy’. This data can serve as an important starting point for national bodies, such as the Ministry of Health and Wellness, and the National Chronic Disease Commission, to start programmes to improve the health of Barbadians. It should also spur personal responsibility for improving health by adopting a healthy lifestyle. Both prevention and treatment of those who are overweight and at risk of obesity have identical foundations.

We must do more exercise, and we must eat better. “Big, and fat, and thick” is not healthy.

Dr. Colin Alert is currently on the Board of Directors of The Heart & Stroke Foundation of Barbados Inc.

The post #BTColumn – Why ‘being too heavy’ is (literally) a big thing, health wise! appeared first on Barbados Today.

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