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Tuesday, April 04, 2006 

4th April
Health Officials Tackle Obesity
By Royanne Forbes-Darville
Health officials this month are paying special attention to the "alarming" rate of obesity in The Bahamas, a problem that is becoming a growing concern as it relates to the country’s children.

While 65 percent of the country’s adult population is obese, the number of overweight children and young adults is alarming, Minister of Health Dr. Bernard Nottage said yesterday at a press conference to announce the start of National Nutrition Month.

"The overall goal of this initiative is to reduce the prevalence of obesity in The Bahamas, which… is a growing problem among our children and youth," Dr. Nottage said.

"A major objective will be to increase public attention to the importance of making informed food choices, developing healthy eating habits and engaging in regular physical exercise that together create a balanced life."

According to the 2002 World Health Report, low fruit and vegetable intake is estimated to cause 31 percent of heart attacks and 11 percent of strokes, worldwide.

The report also states that an estimated 2.7 million lives could potentially be saved each year if consumption of fruits and vegetables is sufficiently increased.

Carmelta Barnes, Director of the Nutritional Unit at the Department of Health said increasing the intake of fruits and vegetables could help prevent non-communicable diseases, if consumed daily in sufficient amounts.

"What we are recommending is that half of your plate, or 50 percent of your plate, should consist of vegetables," Ms. Barnes said.

"A fourth of your plate starch and the other fourth of the plate protein," she said. "So that is the balance that we are recommending to the nation to reshape their plate in this effort so that they can live healthier lives."

Ms. Barnes said that even though healthy foods are generally more expensive, "I think it is a matter of managing and prioritising what is important to you."

Health officials said they plan to launch a lunchtime health series meeting at the Ministry of Health, where a representative from the agriculture sector would speak on the topic and how Bahamians can start their own garden.

The meeting will also be taken into the communities to encourage residents and inform them of the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables.

Dr. Patti Symonette, health consultant with responsibility for the Healthy Schools Initiative for public schools in The Bahamas, explained that not all overweight persons are unhealthy.
"I looked at obesity in high school students in The Bahamas and only one quarter to one third of obesity is attributed to genetic predisposition," Dr. Symonette said.

"However, just because a number of persons in a family are obese does not mean that you as an offspring would become an obese person. What tends to track in families are habits, so if an individual has similar eating habits, there are similar health outcomes, i.e. whether it’s over eating or choosing the wrong foods."

Dr. Nottage said that the theme for this year is "It’s All About Balance," which speaks to the fact that being overweight or obese is the result of energy imbalance over a long period of time.
"Taking in too much food and not getting enough physical activity…when the body does not burn off the extra calories consumed, weight gain can occur," Dr. Nottage said.

"This in turn can lead to non-communicable or lifestyle diseases, such as obesity, type two diabetes mellitus, high blood pressure, cancer and cardiovascular disease," he said.
In The Bahamas, five of the ten leading causes of death are due to lifestyle related illnesses, said Dr. Nottage.

The Bahama Journal - Bahamas News Online Edition
Copyright Jones Communications Ltd. ©2005 - Nassau, Bahamas.

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