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J'cans urged to make healthier choices as obesity rate goes up

Thursday, January 18, 2018

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HEALTH Minister Dr Christopher Tufton is urging more Jamaicans to make healthier food choices as the country's obesity rate continues to rise.

Speaking at an obesity-prevention programme stakeholder meeting at the Spanish Court Hotel in New Kingston on Tuesday, Dr Tufton said proactive steps such as reducing the levels of sugar consumption are critical in minimising obesity levels and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the country.

“This trend is astounding and clearly calls for bold and sustained corrective actions... The evidence is clear that consumption of too many sweetened beverages is contributing to the global obesity crisis that we face as a country,” he said.

Quoting statistics from the Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey, 2007/8, Dr Tufton said 25.3 per cent of Jamaicans are obese.

“If we look at both obesity and overweight, some 51.7 per cent of Jamaicans 15 to 74 years old fall in that combined category. Obesity prevalence rates are highest in the 35 to 44 age group [and account for] 33 per cent,” he noted.

He said the survey further revealed that more females than males were overweight or obese. “Among the 15- to 74 year olds, the study found that 37.7 per cent of females were obese versus just under 13 per cent of males. Additionally, approximately 70 per cent of females had increased waist circumferences versus 19.6 per cent males of the same age, in the 15-74 age-group category,” he said.

Dr Tufton said there is a growing concern about the increase in childhood obesity, adding that children with obesity are very likely to remain obese as adults.

He noted that obesity has increased in children aged 13 to 15 for both sexes over the period 2010 to 2017 by just under 70 per cent, and overweight by 18 per cent.

He added that in the 13 to 15 age group, more boys were obese than girls. “Many children today are growing up in an environment that promotes or encourages weight gain and obesity,” he argued.

Dr Tufton said the World Health Organization recommends that people reduce their daily consumption of free sugar to less than 10 per cent or 12 teaspoons of their total energy intake. He noted that a further reduction to below five per cent or roughly 25 grammes or six teaspoons per day would provide additional health benefits.

He congratulated the Heart Foundation's Global Health Advocacy Project for organising the sensitisation meeting, which aimed to raise awareness about obesity in Jamaica and measures to prevent it.

The session sought to share information about the link between sugar intake and obesity, and the role that policy can play in reducing sugar consumption and, by extension, obesity levels and other NCDs in Jamaica.

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