Obesity is a growing epidemic in the Caribbean and worldwide. Defined as excessive fat accumulation that may impair health or Body Mass Index greater than, or equal to thirty (BMI >=30), obesity is recognized as a disease by the American Medical Association.
In St Vincent and the Grenadines, a small country, the numbers are staggering. Obesity and its related complications ranked high on the morbidity and mortality tables. According to the US Centres for Disease Control, obesity rates have doubled for adults and tripled for children over the last 30 years. Roughly two-thirds of adults are overweight and 36 percent are obese. The National Health and Nutrition Survey (2013) also showed alarming figures.
Among children and youth, effects of obesity include risk factors for heart disease, pre-diabetes, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem. In addition, obese children are likely to be obese as adults, and are at risk for the adult health problems above. Whatâs most alarming: many experts agree that todayâs youth may be the first generation not expected to outlive their parents! We are also seeing for the first time, children being larger than their parents.
A major culprit for this is the excessive consumption of sugary drinks by our children. Most of these products that parents put daily into their childrenâs lunch bags are sugar-sweetened beverages containing sugar and other artificial additives. They are very popular and I will not name them here, but we all know them. Sugary drinks, or soft drinks, are the single largest contributor to daily caloric intake in the places like the United States and it will not be surprising if here they are becoming so.
People are drinking more sugar than ever, double over the last 30 years. These drinks are cheap, easy-to-get, available everywhere, and relentlessly marketed to children and teens.
Adults who drink a soda or more daily are 27 per cent more likely to be overweight or obese, regardless of income or ethnicity. Compared to children who rarely drink sugar-sweetened beverages, children who drink at least one serving per day are 55 per cent more likely to be overweight or obese.
Sugar-sweetened beverages, particularly soda, provide little nutritional benefit and increase weight gain and the risk of diseases. Given that global incidence rates of overweight and obesity are on the rise, particularly among children and adolescents, it is imperative that current public health strategies include education about beverage intake. Consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soda and artificial fruit drinks should be discouraged, and efforts to promote the consumption of other beverages, such as water, low-fat milk, and natural fruit juice, should be made a priority. Schools should stop selling these drinks to children. We have a moral obligation to protect our childrenâs health.
Watch what your child is drinking!
Dr Rosmond Adams, MD is a medical doctor and a public health specialist with training in bioethics and ethical issues in medicine, the life sciences and research. He is the head of Health Information, Communicable Disease and Emergency Response at the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA).
He is also a member of the World Health Organization Global Coordination Mechanism on the Prevention and Control of NCDs.
(The views expressed here are not written on behalf of CARPHA nor the WHO)