Health Ministry sounds excess fat warning
-- 56% of the country's women are obese By Shirley Thomas
Guyana Chronicle
October 20, 2002

Related Links: Articles on health
Letters Menu Archival Menu

HEALTH officials have warned that obesity or excess fat and weight for a person's age, sex and body build, is dangerous and the condition is growing cause for concern here.

The condition can increase the likelihood of sicknesses such as heart attacks, diabetes, hypertension and stroke, accidents, shortness of breath, cancer and ultimately premature death, they said.

Since the disorder constitutes a risk factor and a major public health issue, the Ministry of Health has decided that the time to act is now.

According to Health Minister, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy, close to 10 per cent of the Ministry of Health's expenditure is used to take care of health problems which are an offshoot of obesity.

In order to effectively address this problem, the Ministry of Health, in collaboration with the Guyana Association of Health and Food Policy, on Friday launched the National Anti-Obesity Campaign under the theme "Balance your Lifestyle: Eat Right and Exercise."

The activity, held at the Ministry of Health, Brickdam, Georgetown, was officially launched by Ramsammy, who also gave the feature address.

Sharing statistics on Guyana's rating in this category, he said that on average 56 per cent of the country's women, 40 per cent of its men, and 5-9 per cent of its adolescents are currently overweight and obese.

Compared to other named Caribbean countries, Guyana was shown to have the third highest incidence of obesity among females. Jamaica rates highest with 63%; Barbados - 58%; Trinidad - 54%, and Dominica - 48%.

In the male category the British Virgin Islands shows 25-30%; The Bahamas - 25%; Cayman Islands - 20-30%; Jamaica -12-20%; Trinidad - 10-16%; and St. Vincent and the Grenadines - 10-14%.

Ramsammy said that between 1990-1999 within the Caribbean generally, about 2%-5% of the children five years and under were obese, compared to 6-11% today.

Commenting that these statistics are going in the wrong direction, the minister said that the time to act is now.

The Ministry of Health will therefore be moving swiftly to introduce a pilot fitness project which will involve two communities, two schools and a small corps of other persons with whom it can work initially.

They will be educated on what needs to be done to avoid becoming overweight and obese, and empowered to make wise choices in relation to eating habits, Ramsammy said.

Other speakers at the launching were Dr. Monica Benn, Chiropractor, Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation; Ms. Bernadette Burnett, Nutritionist; and Ms. Beverly Nelson, Physiotherapist GPHC, who all gave timely nutrition tips.

Chairperson was Ms. Janice Archibald, Director of the Food Policy Division.

Noting that obesity (excess fat) is not an indication of being healthy, the health officials said that, to the contrary, obesity is a sign of malnourishment, and suggests that one is at risk of suffering from diabetes, hypertension, a heart condition or stroke.

They urged that persons should balance their lifestyles by eating right and exercising, and resist the temptation of being lured into fad diets.

A fad diet purports to cause a person to lose weight and decrease the percentage of body fat by altering what one eats, rather than by choosing the correct number of servings from the healthful food groups.

Other fad diets urge persons to eat high-fat, low carbohydrate diet, or high protein-low carbohydrate diet.

According to Nutritionist, Ms Burnett, it is important that a person eats foods containing fat, since fat is needed to store energy, without which one cannot survive. Also, a diet without carbohydrates or low in carbohydrates (starchy foods) results in fatigue since carbohydrates are needed to produce energy.

She noted that what is most important is what a person eats; how much he eats; and when he eats it.

Burnett urged that persons resist the temptation to snack on too much junk foods between meals, and use lots of fruits and fruit juices instead.

She also warned against persons going to bed on an empty stomach, since our bodies are at work while we sleep.

And Dr. Benn who spoke on "Obesity and Exercise" noted that women in particular need to be mindful how much weight they carry.

She added that sedentary lifestyles - lack of exercise - is a major cause of being overweight and obese.

She was of the view that exercise can play a great part in reducing obesity and overweight. Noting that there is no reason why the disorder cannot be managed, Benn said that exercise must be seen as a responsibility to the body, and that persons owe it to their bodies.

Meanwhile, Physiotherapist, Ms. Nelson, whose topic was "Let's get Physical", concurred that diet and exercise go hand in hand.

She said that being active and increasing the amount of daily exercise are important factors in reducing weight and body fat.

Warning against starving one's self to reduce weight, she said that persons become overweight when they eat more calories than they expend or use.

The recommended option of exercising therefore would help tone up one's body muscles as well as improve their appearance, she said.

Nelson said it is important that persons be disciplined, dedicated and determined in their approach to exercising.

Some examples of moderate physical exercise she mentioned were cycling, surfing, brisk walking, climbing the stairs.

Some of the major benefits of physical exercise highlighted were:

** increased strength of the muscular system

** improved strength and efficiency of the heart and circulatory system

** increased aerobic capacity - the body's ability to utilise oxygen effectively

** increased bone density

** increased lean body mass which in turn increases metabolic rate

** heightened sense of well being and mental function.

Among the invitees at the launching of the Anti-Obesity Campaign were PAHO/WHO Resident Representative, Dr. Bernadette Theodore Gandi and other health officials of diplomatic missions.