Obesity problems eat up ten per cent of public health budget
--Says Health Minister

Guyana Chronicle
December 3, 2002

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Minister of Health Dr. Leslie Ramsammy delivering the feature address at yesterday’s seminar. Sitting at the head table (from left) are: A conservative research has revealed that four to 10 per cent of Guyana's public health expenditure -- approximately $500M -- is used directly towards problems emanating from overweight and obesity.

Minister of Health Dr. Leslie Ramsammy made this observation at a seminar entitled, 'Combating Obesity in Guyana: Rethinking Our Strategy', which was held at Tower Hotel yesterday. The workshop was mounted by the Ministry of Health in collaboration with the Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute (CFNI).

“For a country like Guyana, that is an enormous amount of resources going into issues that can be addressed by adjusting our life style,” Dr. Ramsammy pointed out.

The Health Minister described the message as timely with the upcoming Christmas holidays and he appealed to all citizens not lose the benefits of healthy living during the festive season.

"Overweight and obesity cannot be on the front burner for one day," Dr. Ramsammy declared. “That is why in Guyana and other countries specific programmes are geared to address them.”

He noted that this is not an issue for just the doctors and nurses or PAHO and Ministry of Health, but it has to be an issue for families at the dinner table.

The participants were informed by the Minister that CFNI did an excellent job in bringing the issues together and now it is their responsibility to take it to the people and the villages.

“This is your job. You are the trainers to take this message out,” Ramsammy told the gathering.

He continued: “This seminar is the springboard for a series of workshops geared to educate teachers, religious leaders, parents and potential parents. The programme is an intensification of our efforts. At a time like this, when we are overwhelmed by problems like HIV/AIDS, it is easy to sometimes overlook very obvious problems in our society such as obesity and overweight. But there is absolutely no question today that overweight and obesity are important public health issues.”

Dr. Ramsammy said he was thrilled that “we are not caught in a trap of focusing on one disease or condition. Instead, we are approaching health in Guyana in a holistic way with the understanding that we are challenged from many fronts and must therefore keep our eyes open and tackle the issues”.

He also noted that exercise is part of nutrition, and while many citizens workout at the seawalls, in the National Park, in villages, on roadsides, when they are finished they go to a meal or a social gathering where all the benefits of exercise are lost.

He hailed the seminar as a powerful way of acknowledging the 100th Anniversary of the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO).

"It is only fitting that we begin this day with such an initiative," he said.

PAHO was established December 2, 1902.

The first half of the seminar focused on the causes of obesity; successful initiatives; beliefs and practices and a new approach to behaviour change.

The second session discussed topics such as: The need for multi-sectoral action to support healthy diet and physical activity, Creating supportive environments for healthy lifestyle choices, and Focusing on schools, workplaces and public-private partnership.

Director of CFNI, Dr. Fitzroy Henry, was the facilitator. He noted during his first presentation that obesity can be acquired through a supply of food from animal fats and sugar; a decrease in cereal consumption; heredity; a decrease in physical activity; increased mechanisation (more cars, computers, video games, televisions usage) and a decrease in manual labour.

Persons can reduce their chances of obesity by eating mainly a plant-based diet; avoid smoking and secondary smoke; alcoholic consumption should not exceed two drinks per day for men and one drink for female, (one drink equals 12 ounces), and one hour of brisk walking each day.
(Shirwin Campbell)

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