Sunday, February 13, 2011

Childhood obesity in The Bahamas

Obesity crisis for Bahamian children
Tribune Staff Reporter
Nassau, Bahamas

CHILDHOOD obesity is a serious concern in the Bahamas, with more than half the country's children being overweight, according to a local pediatrician.

Although there are no exact statistics available, Dr Jerome Lightbourn said he believes a significant portion of the next generation will not be able to live normal adult lives because of their weight.

Worse still, he said, many already show early signs of developing serious and possibly fatal obesity-related diseases.

The numbers that are available seem less alarming, but Dr Lightbourn is convinced they do not create an accurate picture.

Primary health care monthly reports, and the School Health Services annual report for 2004-2005, revealed that of 3,066 Bahamian 10-year-olds screened, 576 were considered overweight - a number which is still almost double the world average of 10 per cent.

For Dr Lightbourn, obesity as an "imported disease" and we only have to look to what is happening in other places to understand the extent of the danger.

He said: "We have had an influx of the western world, of mass produced foods with steroids, pesticides, hormones and the very popular fast foods."

The source of much of this food is the United States, and according to American Centre for Disease Control, childhood obesity in the US has more than tripled in the past 30 years. The prevalence of obesity among children aged six to 11 increased from 6.5 per cent in 1980 to 19.6 per cent in 2008.

Dr Lightbourn said: "We have grown up on good-tasting foods, for Bahamians that means fried chicken, macaroni and peas and rice, all high fat and high salt."

He said anyone consuming foods with a high salt and carbohydrate content runs the risk of developing diseases such as hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes.

"It is a cultural and generational problem. We need to address it from a public health perspective just as we address AIDS, cancer and cigarette smoking, obesity is probably killing more people than any of them," said Dr Lightbourn.

Childhood obesity is a serious medical condition which affects children and adolescents. It occurs when a child is well above the normal weight for his or her age and height.

This is called a body mass index (BMI).

When a person's BMI is 25 or greater, they are considered morbidly obese, said Dr Lightbourn.

Childhood obesity is particularly troubling because the extra pounds often start children on the path to health problems which were once confined to adults.

"The issue in the Bahamas, and around the world, is that adult onset life style diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and even cholesterol are now being associated with childhood," said Dr. Lightbourn.

"We are seeing these diseases in younger and younger people. Heart disease in no longer a 70-year-old issue, it is a 30-year-old disease."

Dr Lightbourn, an advisor at the Princess Margaret Hospital, revealed there are at least four children under the age of 12 in the children's ward who are not only obese but diabetic - a condition which can lead to kidney failure, heart disease, or blindness among other illnesses.

He said: "There needs to be a year-long campaign, not just during Heart Month, and should be a united approach by educators, parents and the government."

Dr Lightbourn recommends that children exercise for one hour every day, and that sodas and unhealthy foods be eliminated from cafeterias.

He also stressed the importance of parents and teachers leading by example and making important lifestyle changes themselves.

February 12, 2011