Two in three Barbadian women expected to be clinically obese in 10 years

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Daphne Ewing-Chow

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Tuesday October 27, 2015 – “An expected 2/3 women is predicted to be clinically obese by 2025,” says Gina Pitts, the CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Barbados. This is approximately twice the current prevalence and almost three times the existing obesity rate for the wider English-speaking Caribbean.

Based on Global Burden of Disease 2010 results, obesity is the single greatest risk factor associated with disease burden in Barbados, contributing to over 11 % of total disability-adjusted life years. Obesity is a major risk factor for a large number of health issues such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular problems. Heart disease is currently the leading cause of death world-wide, and is attributable to nearly 16% of deaths in the English-speaking Caribbean each year. The growing obesity rate is also a significant public health priority given the pervasiveness of female headed households in Barbados— obesity prevalence has been found to be almost twice as high in Barbadian women than in Barbadian men.

Studies in Barbados have shown that preventing obesity among women could reduce the incidence of hypertension and diabetes by as much as 33% within this population. This can be achieved by addressing social, cultural and economic factors that result in reduced physical activity and poor dietary choices.

According to the Health of the Nation Study, a population-based cross-sectional study conducted in Barbados from 2012 to 2013, 90.5 % of Barbadian women are physically inactive according to WHO minimum recommendations, compared to 58.9 % of Barbadian men. Fulbright Scholar, Miriam Alvarado has found the cause of this disparity to be linked to gender norms and health beliefs among Barbadian women. These findings have enormous implications for education and resource planning.

Cultural factors and the modern fast food culture have also resulted in poor dietary choices among Barbadian men and women. The typical Bajan diet contains foods that are high in saturated fat, which has been directly linked to obesity and elevated cholesterol. While carbohydrates and protein each provide just 4 calories in each gram, fat (including saturated fat) contains 9 calories per gram. Therefore, eating foods high in saturated fat can add extra calories to a meal. According to online nutritional database, ichange.com, a typical beef roti, like the one commonly found at local restaurants, has 15.9g of saturated fat. This represents more than 100% of the American Heart Association’s recommended daily value of 13 grams of saturated fats per day. A Fish Zinger sandwich at KFC has 10.5g of saturated fat which is more than half of the recommended daily allowance.

Says, Gina Pitts, CEO of the Barbados Heart and Stroke Foundation, “The rates for cardiovascular death will only increase unless we as a nation are willing to take up the call for action from our food manufacturers, to produce better labeling, and nutritional content, our import sector, to bring in quality foods and beverages, and our people to eat and grow more home grown vegetables.”

The evidence for the adverse effects of obesity on women’s health is indisputable. The time has come for the governments of the region to make this issue a critical public health priority—to increase the number of “tools in the tool box” including general education and dedicated nutrition and lifestyle services. Let us together reduce the social, emotional and economic burden of preventable death among our women.

For more information, visit the website of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Barbados at www.hsfbarbados.org.

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