Obesity Levels in CARICOM Countries Are the Highest Compared to the Rest of the World, And Alarmingly High in Our Children.
This year the Caribbean and the World will commemorate World Obesity Day on 4 March under the theme “Every Body, Needs Everybody”. Obesity is no longer only a problem in developed countries but is now a critical issue for developing countries, including CARPHA Member States (CMS), especially since this disease is affecting a significant number of children.
The Caribbean has some of the highest rates of overweight and obesity in the Americas with adults ranging from 18.9% in Antigua and Barbuda to 31.6% in the Bahamas. Alarmingly, overweight and obesity prevalence levels in children aged 5-9 years in CARICOM countries are increasing, and highest in the Bahamas at 39.5% and lowest in Saint Lucia at 26.1%.1 The prevalence of obesity in Caribbean children is two to three times higher than the World.2 With the obesity epidemic in children and adolescents, the future seen through the risk factor lens for Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) looks dismal, as these young persons will be the future working generation but living with higher rates of NCDs.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the vulnerability of persons with obesity, and other NCDs. It is not yet clear why there is a link between COVID-19 and obesity, however, an increased susceptibility to respiratory problems, inflammation, and immunological disturbances in people living with obesity may all be contributing factors. Obesity also has a number of NCD co-morbidities such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease which have also been shown to increase risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes.3
Obesity is caused by a combination of genetic, environmental factors and behavioural factors, such as physical inactivity and unhealthy diet. However, the obesogenic environment, which is usually driven by factors outside of the individual’s control, makes the healthy choice the difficult choice to take. Persons with obesity also face stigma and discrimination due to their weight that can lead to poor emotional well-being, and low self-esteem.
Realising that a whole of society approach is necessary to reduce the burden of obesity and diet-related NCDs, CARPHA continues to support its member states and collaborate with regional and international organisations in an effort to minimize the impact of obesity in the Caribbean region. Some initiatives spearheaded by CARPHA to combat childhood obesity include the Six-Point Policy Package which sets out priority areas for action on mandatory food labelling, nutritional standards and guidelines for schools, and reduction in the marketing of unhealthy foods.
CARPHA, in collaboration with Ministries of Health and Education in Grenada and Saint Lucia, implemented an intervention in schools to promote healthy environments and diets to prevent obesity and diabetes. ‘Reversing the Rise in Childhood Obesity’ was funded by the World Diabetes Foundation. As part of the project, a recipe book Kids Can Cook Too was developed to support sustained healthy eating behaviours of children.
No single intervention will combat obesity. This is why “Every Body, Needs Everybody”.
CARPHA joins the rest of the world in commemorating “World Obesity Day” to raise awareness and encourage the “whole of society approach” where every body can work together for happier, healthier and longer lives for everybody.
Caribbean countries should recommit efforts to fighting childhood obesity by:
Developing, implementing or enforcing policies aimed at facilitating the consumption of healthy diets and increasing physical activity, such as, clear and simple front of packaging labelling.
Combatting social stigma associated with obesity
Ensuring access to care for persons who want help to maintain a healthy weight
Individuals can do their part by becoming more physically active by moving more and reducing the consumption of salt, fats and sugar and increasing the consumption of fruits and vegetables. CARPHA as part of its ongoing support to Member States, will continue to assist countries in developing and implementing tools to reduce obesity, especially childhood obesity, in collaboration with our development partners.
Our children are our future and have a right to health. Let us protect it. “Every Body, Needs Everybody”.